Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Stars: Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Ryan Gosling
The Russo Brothers’ ho-hum post-Avengers career ebbs along with the arrival of their $200 million dollar Netflix endeavour; a mystifying expenditure made only more unfathomable on watching the thing. You might rightly assume that the big ticket names at the top of the picture might warrant a degree of this financial excess (this marks the return of Ryan Gosling, after all), but it still doesn’t quite tally against the finished product which, while slick, adheres to the Netflix mandate of flatly bland and visually uninspired fare. Increasingly the assumption seems to be that nobody’s really paying attention.
Gosling is the ‘Gray Man’ of the film’s title, a CIA operative code-named ‘Six’; an expendable resource in the field of wet works. The film’s neon-hued opening in Bangkok evidences his particular set of skills, riffing on John Wick with little of the same elegance. Still, the sequence also affords us a little time with Ana de Armas’ under-utilised Dani Miranda, rendered as little more than a vulnerable sidekick going forward. In a rain of fireworks, Six discovers he’s been sent on a mission to take out a fellow operative. It’s only a matter of time before he inevitably goes rogue to get to the bottom of his dirty assignment.
Before taking his post-2049 sabbatical, Gosling was garnering quite the repertoire of stoic men of action. The Gray Man falls neatly (a little too neatly) in line, reigniting the trend with scant adjustments. An actor who can command the screen when prickled, his work here is disappointingly subdued. Apt for the movie’s title, but a little far from exhilarating. A smart-alec kid nicknames him “robot”, which is quite on-the-nose all things considered.
Chris Evans (borrowing Miles Teller’s Top Gun: Maverick porno ‘tash) fares a little better as Lloyd Hansen, the morally bankrupt mercenary enlisted to liquidate Six with the assistance of Suzanne Brewer (Jessica Henwick). Still, the script hands him some rancid one liners to pass off as droll. The kind of tired snark that might’ve seemed knowing in more inspired hands. He’s having fun, one can tell, but you also can’t shake the feeling this is all one of the cliché jobs his Scott Pilgrim character would’ve taken.
The Russos’ approach to action filmmaking is as chaotic and graceless as ever, while along the way they check-off the usual over-done motifs. Drink whenever you see a Big Font™ location card and you’ll be under the table before the first hour is done. Watch with friends and you can place bets on the life expectancy of Six’s eccentric Q-like contact. Get giddy for an over-reliance on drone shots, an anarchic car chase through a major European city, that same juddering techno score that all these movies share… None of this is especially egregious, but it is all sorely lacking in originality. The Gray Man is a cut’n’paste job. All of it’s parts feel as though they’ve long existed in some other form, furthering the sense that the entire enterprise was auto-generated by some relentlessly churning Netflix algorithm. There’s nothing approaching personality here.
Evans’ Lloyd referring disparagingly to Six as a “Ken doll” only points toward the vastly more intriguing Gosling feature still 12 months away from us. Still, if you’re looking to pass some downtime with something that resembles a 2 hour video game cut scene, The Gray Man will do you for now.
That’s what $200 million gets you these days, I suppose.