The Gray Man: A fun, fast-paced thriller
Gosling and Evans8
Script and direction8
Action and thrills8
Matthew Turner | On 22, Jul 2022
Director: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Billy Bob Thornton, Regé-Jean Page
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Netflix’s latest action thriller reputedly cost the company a cool $200 million. Whether or not they got their money’s worth is open for debate, but two things are certain – the Russo Brothers have delivered one of the best Netflix originals to date and the most enjoyable action thriller since the last Mission: Impossible movie.
Adapted from the first in a series of Tom Clancy-ish novels by Mark Greaney, The Gray Man stars Ryan Gosling as a covert assassin, code-named Sierra Six (“007 was taken”), who works for the CIA, having been recruited from prison by his former handler Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton). When Six discovers that his new CIA boss, Denny Carmichael (Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page), has tasked him with killing a fellow super-secret Sierra agent, he goes rogue, pocketing a flashdrive full of incriminating evidence in the process.
In desperation, Carmichael contracts Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), a wild card assassin who’s so unpredictable that even the CIA fired him. Meanwhile, Six receives unexpected help from CIA agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), and the pair try to protect Fitzroy’s vulnerable young niece, Claire (Julia Butters), after Hansen targets her as bait.
Gosling is terrific at playing the laconic, largely unruffled secret agent, his laidback facade only briefly cracking in his protective attitude towards Claire – they previously bonded when Fitzroy asked him to look after her for a few months. In contrast, Evans makes a great foil, overplaying with obvious relish, and their conflicting energies generate enjoyable sparks.
The rest of the supporting cast are equally good. This is essentially the role that Ana de Armas deserved in No Time to Die, and she makes the most of it, blowing things up left, right and centre and kicking more than her fair share of ass. As with the Bond film, it’s actually refreshing that there’s no hint of romance between her character and Six – either way, that doesn’t stop them having chemistry and there’s a fun running joke about how she makes him feel inadequate by saving him all the time.
Elsewhere, Page makes a solidly smarmy central villain and Julia Butters (who stole her scene with Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) brings welcome warmth and sweetness as Claire. However, the film criminally wastes Jessica Henwick as Carmichael’s CIA cohort, Suzanne Brewer – how do you cast skilled martial artist Henwick in an action thriller and not give her a fight scene?
Fortunately, the film more than delivers in the action department, Henwick fight scene or no Henwick fight scene. The Russos orchestrate a series of genuinely thrilling set-pieces, the highlight of which is a show-stopping central shoot-out involving Gosling being hand-cuffed to a bench, which segues into a breathtaking sequence atop a moving tram.
Similarly, the Russos have a real sense of pace, ensuring that the film never flags for a second of its two-hour running time – you’re never more than a few minutes away from a punch-up, car chase or explosion, particularly in the castle-set climax. In addition, the fight sequences are shot to emphasise clean choreography, rather than resorting to choppy editing where you can’t tell who’s hitting who and with what.
The film’s Bond-like ambitions are enhanced by some eye-catching location work that includes the likes of Hong Kong, Turkey, Vienna, Prague, Croatia and Azerbaijan, with the colourful locations flashing up in big capital letters each time so you can see where the money has gone. To that end, the film has obvious franchise potential and, on the strength of The Gray Man, the further adventures of Sierra Six would be very welcome indeed.