In this overwhelming assault weapon of a film, Ryan Gosling portrays a secret agent from his previous employers on the run.
The Russo brothers are not recognized for their subdued filmmaking approach. Their latest, the Netflix-produced espionage thriller The Gray Man, is grating on every level, even by their usual bombastic standards. Consider these men behind the Marvel blockbusters Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. The music that can be heard over the onslaught of heavy weapons sounds like it was performed with hammers and industrial equipment.
Then there is the visual noise, a jumble of blurry agitation, rotating crane views, and rapid-fire editing, which at times nearly drowns out the action. This is unfortunate, considering the move is the focal point of this hyperactive assault weapon of a film. The Gray Man is amusing despite the sensory assault, akin to being stuck inside a first-person shooting game played by a 12-year-old gaming prodigy.
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Gray Man is Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Sierra Six, a highly trained and ostensibly unkillable secret operator who finds himself the target of his previous employers. Consider Bourne in a Drive-inspired jacket. Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), a CIA operative who is forced to go rogue, becomes his reluctant disciple.
Both are opposed to Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans, every bit as comfortable in the sociopathic torture-connoisseur role as he is in his selection of slightly too-tight polo shirts).
In Prague, Croatia, Hong Kong, and in the skies somewhere over Turkey, helicopters crash, grenades explode, and supporting characters are slain. It is exorbitant throughout, not least in the budgets for pyrotechnics, locales, and likely Lycra, considering Evans’s selection of snug trousers.
The issue is that Evans is never shown as a compelling threat. In reality, he appears to be awful at his job, as a coworker claims that a disastrous asset removal that made headlines will be taught in schools as an example of what not to do. This is not so much a fight of wills as a skilled spy vs. a crazy spy. The idea that Gosling is the old-fashioned spy and Evans is the brute force modern maniac whose strategy seems to blow up as many people as possible is underdeveloped. Still, the script by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely keeps trying to convince us that Hansen is a terrifying genius despite no evidence of this.
Like so much original streaming entertainment, “The Gray Man” is unwilling to take an actual risk. Numerous articles have been written regarding the algorithms and templates that seem to influence creative decisions more than humans.
When will a corporation like Netflix invest $200 million in a film and produce anything comparable to “John Wick,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” or “Fast Five”? A real superhero may be required for something of the sort to occur.