'The Gray Man' review: Gosling and Evans chew up the screen in over-the-top (but fun) action romp
Courtesy of Netflix
Part James Bond, Jason Bourne and John Wick and all adrenaline-fueled madness, Anthony and Joe Russo’s big-budgeted Netflix expenditure “The Gray Man” is a ludicrous exercise in explosions, shoot-outs, and wacky characters. It’s also cheekily over-the-top in a way that would make Michael Bay and others blush (remember those aerial drone shots in “Ambulance?”). A globe trotting CIA old-school actioner that will see the bulk of its audience come via streaming, “The Gray Man” brings the star power with the one-two punch of Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans squaring off mano-e-mano in a memorable climatic brawl for the ages.
Does the plot threads make sense? Barley. Is Evans hamming it up in full douche mode complete with a porn stash? Absolutely! Is it a blast? Mileage will vary, but as passive entertainment on Netflix, in which the streamer has churned out some turds (“6 Underground,” and “Red Notice” immediately come to mind), “The Gray Man” leaves no bridge standing, no grenade untouched, and slings enough bodies to make a slasher movie look cute.
Best known for their stint at Marvel, the Russo Brothers have found a new home at Netflix, which shelled out $200 million bucks for the potential franchise starter and marks the streamers biggest investment to date. Fortunately for them, unlike the Marvel films, it appears the studio got its money’s worth because I couldn’t keep track of all the bullet ricochets, exploding vehicles, and rocket launchers used throughout the movie. I was fortunate enough to see it in a theater where the sound design and presentation went hand-in-hand, but it’ll still play gangbusters at home. Keeping up with all the chaotic fight sequences could prove testy, though it moves along smoothly enough to stop folks from grabbing the remote and changing the channel.
The movie opens with a quick prologue setting the stage: Gosling plays a convicted killer chosen by a big-wig at the CIA named Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) who offers to commute his sentence if he agrees to be their assassin for hire. He becomes known as Sierra Six, or just Six and when someone brings it to his attention that it’s a weird name, the response is apt (“Yeah, well, 007 was taken”). The type of self-aware humor is prevalent during the movie and Gosling gets mileage out of the character (another sequence where he’s called a “Ken doll” got chuckles because, in case you didn’t already know, he’ll be playing Ken in the live-action “Barbie” movie next summer).
Six has been good for the CIA’s bottom line, knocking off bad-guys his new boss (Rege-Jean Page of “Bridgerton'' notoriety) deems noteworthy, but when a job goes sideways and he escapes with valuable, incriminating evidence, all bets are off. Enter CIA “fixer” Llyod Hanson (Evans - going full tilt) a former operative who plays by his own sadistic set of rules and ethics, which means gleefully torturing subjects with needle nose pliers, jumper cables and dressing in vintage clothing while sporting a buzz cut. He puts a hit out on Six, which is easier said than done considering the agent is good at disappearing.
As soon as these characters meet (via telephone the first time) we already know where “The Gray Man” is inevitably headed, despite a kidnapping subplot involving Fitzroy’s niece (“Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” scene stealer Julia Butters) who has a heart condition. Evans seems to enjoy breaking away from the Captain America mold and relishing the bad guy persona (sometimes more than the audience) and Gosling leans into the silent assassin type with ease.
The Russo Brothers, working with a screenplay co-written by Stephen McFeely that’s based on the book by Mark Greaney, put the actors through the ringer and of course, these guys withstand life sustaining injuries like a scrape on the sidewalk. No individual could endure the bullets, stabs, and punches both Six and Llyod do, but something tells me the Russo’s aren’t exactly striving for realism. “Knives Out” and “No Time to Die'' standout Ana de Armas rounds out the cast playing Gosling’s partner in crime.
“The Gray Man” might rely too much on the star power/charisma of Gosling and Evans to keep the movie afloat, but they’re capable movie stars that take what would have been an otherwise tedious action movie and spin into something more than just bullets and blood. It has all that too, but you know what I mean.
THE GRAY MAN is now playing in select theaters and debuts on Netflix Friday, July 22nd.