'​The Gray Man' Has Vivid Performances to Make Up for a Colourless Script

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Julia Butters, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, Billy Bob Thornton

Photo: Stanislav Honzik / Netflix

BY Rachel HoPublished Jul 14, 2022

Since their immense success within the MCU, the Russo brothers have been relatively quiet. They've mostly worn producer hats the last few years, with the occasional writing credit for Joe, but other than the Tom Holland-led crime drama Cherry, they've not directed a film since Avengers: Endgame. With The Gray Man, the Russo brothers are not only back in the directing chair, but also back in the action genre. While the film won't blow your mind, it's an entertaining joyride with a solid cast that will keep your attention and earn a chuckle or two from you along the way. 

Breaker High alumnus Ryan Gosling is the titular Gray Man, also known as Sierra Six. While incarcerated, he's recruited by Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) of the CIA and becomes an off-the-books operative for the Agency working within the grey areas their other agents cannot. Almost 20 years later, the CIA has unceremoniously dismissed Fitzroy and his replacement, Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page), is looking to shut down the Sierra program. 

When Six comes in possession of some compromising intel, he draws the ire of Carmichael, who hires Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), a psychopathic private-sector freelancer, to bring Six down. When Hansen kidnaps Fitzroy's niece (Julia Butters), their cat-and-mouse chase becomes personal for Six. Aided by Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), who is looking to clear her own name, Six takes on Hansen in explosive car chases and shootouts around the world.

Typically known for his indie films and more cerebral roles, Gosling is a bonafide Hollywood action star. His stoic, Terminator-esque expressions mix well with his dry humour to create a believable highly skilled agent who is entertaining and endearing. It feels like we haven't seen Gosling in awhile — his last movie was 2018's First Man — and his presence in The Gray Man reminds us what we've been missing. A sequel hasn't yet been announced, but an action franchise with Gosling at the centre is most welcome.

As for Evans, he's made a career out of being the All-American Boy Scout in blue, and his turn as Hansen gives us the other side of that coin: the All-American douchebag with a trash 'stache in tow. Equipped with shirts one size too small, Evans is great as the film's baddie. He delivers the one-two punch of slick put-downs and threatening physical beefiness with just enough menace and humour.

In spite of a pretty appalling script, the banter between Gosling and Evans is every bit as charming as expected. They riff off one another well, and when you add in de Armas's charisma, it creates an enjoyable couple of hours just based on their performances alone. The Gray Man works well as a vehicle for its actors to show off their star appeal and physicality, but it doesn't work so well in establishing the Russo brothers' identity past the MCU. 

Save for using large text across the screen identifying locales and timelines, the Russo brothers don't imprint any of their own character onto The Gray Man. Instead, it's an amalgamation of other great action films, including a very Mission: Impossible-like sequence in which Six jumps out of a plane; it's even punctuated with a familiar-sounding score. John Wick, Jason Bourne and Michael Bay all get nods, as well. And while there's nothing wrong with paying homage to iconic work in the same genre, The Gray Man ends up feeling like a lesser-than version of each of those influences. 

But to the credit of the Russo brothers, they have still created a decent summer movie. Although the frenetic camerawork hides a lot of the action, the set pieces the Russos created are spectacles with some fun moments; one sequence on a tram in Prague in particular is pretty cool. And the highlight of the action is the final, pared-down showdown between Six and Hansen that's darkly humoured with some Rocky brawn. 

There seems to be a trend with Netflix-produced films: take big stars and build empty, lite-entertainment films around them. The Russo brothers do try to imbue the movie with a bit of heart, but it isn't very affecting and ultimately unnecessary — the purpose of The Gray Man is to keep us mindlessly captivated. And thanks to Gosling, Evans and de Armas, it succeeds in that respect. 

Latest Coverage