Currently streaming on Netflix is a pricey and explosive thriller starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas.
That’s better, I think. The Gray Man, which is currently available on Netflix, is a solid action film that follows a streak of hugely successful but subpar ones (Red Notice, Extraction). The Russo brothers’ raucous and star-studded spy comedy pits Ryan Gosling against Chris Evans in a head-to-head competition.
The Gray Man, which will be available in some theatres and on Netflix starting on Friday, July 22, begins with Ryan Gosling making fun of Billy Bob Thornton’s unflappable CIA agent while in jail 20 years ago. Thornton replies, “We understand it, you’re glib,” but when Gosling muses over a life of murder for the government, his eyes soften somberly. And when we finally catch up with Ryan Gosling in the present, he is a jaded shell who is only useful for eliminating anonymous bad guys who have crossed Uncle Sam. Gosling is now a sophisticated killing machine known only as Sierra 6. But after refusing to put a child in danger, he finds himself at conflict with his cold-blooded boss.
Wow wow wow. Seriously? We’re still creating movies about assassins who go rogue because they won’t kill a child in the year 2022, right?
OK, good. So anyway, Gosling comes into conflict with Chris Evans’ unhinged mercenary as they’re both sent to retrieve a vital USB drive, and —
Hold on tight. No. I won’t stand for that. the USB drive A spy film depends on a freakin’ thumb drive after 60 years of James Bond films and six Mission: Impossible movies (and counting)!
So, yes. On paper, The Gray Man has every clichéd espionage genre component (and when I say every component, I mean there is roughly four movies’ worth of material going on). Finger drives. a missing niece. The true villains are bureaucrats. Body armoured squads walking over airfields in the rain. Action scenes cut to panicked analysts in front of screens lining entire walls. Skyscraper phone calls that are tense. Rooftop helipads, security checks, and men forcing bullets from guns to exit the chamber before the other man can fire him.
However, as yet another city’s name flashes across the screen in large letters, you begin to wonder whether the film’s creators are making fun of the espionage genre’s tropes. The filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo, who are responsible for a number of Marvel’s Captain America and Avengers films, are extremely aware of the kind of movie they are creating. The crisp dialogue and witty banter are amplified and stylised, and they are a tonne of fun. They’re glib, we get that.
The Gray Man differs from predictable slogs like Extraction and Amazon’s tedious Without Remorse because of this. The movie has swagger to burn, from the opening scene where Ryan Gosling enters battle in a sharp red suit while twirling a water gun to his silent, silhouetted killing of a platoon of bodyguards with whatever cutlery is available. Contrary to the title, the beautiful cinematography, fluid camerawork, and fun music are anything but grey. The Gray Man is on par with stylish films like Atomic Blonde and might compete with John Wick.
The star power on display, with Gosling, Evans, and super charismatic guest star Dhanush handling the action heroics and quick-witted banter with equal assurance, plays a significant role in the movie’s success. Although Sierra 6’s real name is Courtland Gentry, which means he has not one, but two absurdly amazing action hero names, Gosling plays it quite straight. Evans plays it up for the both of them as a stylishly deranged torturer with a collection of stylish knit polo shirts, like James Bond’s troubled younger sibling. By the way, the name of his character is Lloyd Hanson, which isn’t as cool as Sierra 6 but sticks in your head because it’s said every 20 seconds or so.
I bring up the names because Ana de Armas also stars in this movie, although I’d be damned if I could name her character. The key males have backstories, even if Evans’ is only “went to Harvard,” but I can’t think of any compelling tales for her character. She doesn’t even have much of a personality in the script, aside from the required super-badassness and being irritable when guys yell at her. Even if de Armas’ involvement in the James Bond movie No Time to Die was merely a cameo, this still feels like a waste of the current hot star.
The several international stops in this action movie result in violence. Obviously, all of the stylishly staged shootouts and rousing punch-ups are for entertainment purposes only. Then, though, a massive street battle occurs in a European metropolis. Homes are destroyed by fast-moving rounds. Huge public squares are being swept by high-caliber killing machines. Even though you might not see it, typical individuals going about their daily lives sadly die in awful circumstances. This callous brutality strikes several countries in the wake of mass shootings in the US, Denmark, and Norway (and that’s just this year).
That could perhaps be the point. The movie doesn’t just cheerfully go on to the next far-off locale after this cataclysmic fight. Instead, it lurks among the injured and dead inside a hospital. The next fight will be partially set up by this, it must be said. The Gray Man, however, at least hints at a thought regarding the savagery playing out on screen, regarding the silver screen’s portrayal of violence as redemptive and protective, and regarding the futility of it all. It isn’t exactly Drive or Only God Forgives, which Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 and 2013 arthouse parodies of the crime and vehicle chase genres, respectively. But there is undoubtedly some subversive nuance at play here. It’s telling that there are no terrorists or apocalyptic weapons in the spy world of this movie. The only thing that poses a threat to regular people like you and me is the internecine power struggles of various filthy sociopaths, who don’t care who gets hurt in the process.
In the end, The Gray Man nudges us to remember it’s a fiction while also encouraging us to enjoy the hell out of a sophisticated shoot-’em-up where attractive characters go bang-bang. I may be squinting too much to claim that this is the smartest action movie on Netflix, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most entertaining.