REVIEW: The Gray Man (2022)

Ryan Gosling is Sierra Six in the Russo brothers’ THE GRAY MAN — PHOTO: Stanislav Honzik / Netflix.

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (Avengers: Endgame) — Screenplay by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely (Avengers: Infinity War).

Over the years, Netflix has struggled to create a true film franchise. Films like Bright, Extraction, The Old Guard, and Red Notice have been their first attempts to really kickstart a film franchise. Their latest attempt, The Gray Man, is an adaptation of the Mark Greaney novel of the same name. The $200 million-budgeted film is directed by the Russo brothers (of Avengers and Community fame), has a $200 million budget, and features a star-studded cast. Netflix is trying, again and again, to get a real franchise off the ground, and this very well could be it, even though it, admittedly, struggles to set itself apart from other films like it.

The film follows “Sierra Six,” (played by Ryan Gosling) a convicted murderer who has been hired by a senior CIA official (played by Billy Bob Thornton) to become a black ops assassin (or secret agent) for the CIA. Eighteen years after having been hired, Six finds himself on a mission in Bangkok to take out someone who is supposedly interested in selling national security secrets. However, while fighting him, Six discovers that the man he had been hired to kill and silence was an assassin from the same program as himself. Because of this, Six decides to refuse his CIA-ordered evacuation and instead becomes an enemy of Danny Carmichael (played by Regé-Jean Page), a corrupt CIA official, who then hires the sociopathic mercenary Lloyd Hansen (played by Chris Evans) to kill Six and retrieve the encrypted drive that Six got on his mission in Bangkok.

The action genre is chock full of various strong offerings, and this is especially true if you count superhero films as action films. These days you’ve got those films about caped heroes, major long-running franchises (like James Bond, Mission: Impossible, and Fast and Furious), John Wick or John Wick-inspired action flicks, and much more. There are dozens of films that try to profit off of their popularity, some of which are quite good (like Ilya Naishuller’s Nobody) whereas others don’t leave much of an impression (like David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde or Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake). I think it is fair to say that The Gray Man falls somewhere in between Nobody and Gunpowder Milkshake, and I, personally, think it’s closer to the former film in quality.

The Gray Man doesn’t have very many distinctive features, but the film’s stars (all of which are fine without truly standing out), a wild and sometimes borderline exhausting pace, and very many decent action set-pieces help to make it a thoroughly entertaining popcorn action film. I’m not sure most people will remember it in a year, but I do think most people will enjoy the film because the plot doesn’t feel as trivial as it sometimes did in Red Notice and it isn’t as slap-sticky either (there are quips here, but they are spread out more). As mentioned, that fast pace does take the wind out of you. The film doesn’t give you a lot of time to breathe. The characters travel to so many destinations so quickly that it can be confusing, in part because the film structurally also wants to flashback, at a strange point in the first act, to establish a connection between its main character and another character’s daughter.

Often, these not-so-distinctive action films survive, or gain an audience, because of the style of action in the films. Although the action in The Gray Man never reaches the heights of John Wick or Mission: Impossible, the action set-pieces here are mostly solid and there are quite a few of them (and most of them feature speedy drone shots). However, it must be said that the action scenes here lack the small amount of verisimilitude that compels you to pump your fists when you see Keanu Reeves take part in hand-to-hand combat in John Wick or when you see Tom Cruise running from building to building in Mission: Impossible, and why is that? Well, the film relies too much on CGI and smoke to disguise the ways in which the combat in the film is executed. So, it often feels too obvious that a stunt man is doing the exciting action.

The Russo Brothers’ The Gray Man is a fine but undeniably generic globetrotting action-thriller that is buoyed up immensely by its truly star-studded cast. But even though it may ultimately be a generic picture, I also think this is exactly the kind of content that your average Netflix subscriber would order.

6.7 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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