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The Gray Man Movie Review

Overloaded, overwrought and overwhelming, The Gray Man movie is the kind of set piece oriented, cliché ridden action spectacle that used to be Hollywood’s bread and butter but has become so rare it’s almost alien when placed before us.

Wallowing in light characters and an unbelievable plot as much its stars charisma and some wildly over-the-top action sequences, the Russo Brothers’ (Avengers: Endgame) return to big budget studio filmmaking avoids introspection (of both its content and its process) like the plague.

The Gray Man Movie Review

On its surface it’s nothing we haven’t gladly imbibed from the Luc Besson school over the years, but in the age of the modern blockbuster, The Gray Man is a little past its sell-by date.

The bones of the Russos’ Marvel-era collaborations with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are clear in Gray Man‘s twisty plot of bureaucratic tyranny and rampant corruption that only a lone hero is willing to stand against (based on the popular novel series by Mark Greaney).

The Gray Man Movie

Some vague, technological MacGuffin has the smirking, arrogant head of the CIA (Bridgerton‘s Regé-Jean Page) scrambling to destroy all evidence of wrongdoing and willing to do whatever it takes to, destroy whomever he must, to do so.

The difference this time around is the ‘hero,’ replacing a stalwart defender of good with Ryan Gosling‘s Sierra Six, a convicted murderer freed from prison by the CIA to become one of their nameless, faceless assassins who will do their dirty work with no questions asked. In Gosling’s hands he’s a brooding, acerbic shadow whose background is sparingly parsed out over flashback’s and occasional breaks between action beats, but primarily exists to destroy villains and quip over their ruined forms.

The Gray Man Movie

Captain America’s physical form is here but transformed into the over-the-top villain this kind of thing seems to require, allowing Chris Evans to gnash his teeth and chew scenery while wearing a ridiculous mustache and loafers.

This has been good enough for James Bond for decades and Gosling’s natural screen charisma helps tremendously, but it also becomes quickly evident that a quiet killer (even if he has a heart of gold) is not going to keep a paint by numbers plot together without more than just star power.

And to its credit, it does have more than that. The Russos have clearly taken the opportunity to return to ‘real world’ action as a challenge to up the ante at every turn in their set pieces. Opening with an incandescent Bangkok nighttime chase and knife fight amid fireworks and managing to squeeze in a running gun battle on top of a train and a dizzying airplane crash, The Gray Man movie away from its roots and characters is lively, vibrant action filled with visual wit.

It’s when the action stops that the clay feet start showing again.

Attempting to inject both some humanity and stakes, a lengthy flashback introduces perpetually sick and innocent Claire (Julia Butters), the teenage niece of Six’s mentor who quickly becomes the bargaining chip for him to give himself up and focus on his roaring rampage of revenge.

It’s no more hackneyed than anything else about Six, but it does add up to a world without any seeming awareness of how well trod its story is or no particular care about.

Maybe it’s the source material. There’s a long and stories history between pulp novels and easily-consumed studio entertainment. From James Bond and Matt Helm to Die Hard and Jack Reacher, it used to be that the blatantly silly premises and paper-thin characters were part of the charm, or at least didn’t inhibit the enjoyment of the villains getting theirs.

Maybe the Russos thought if they could add enough pizzaz the foundational weaknesses wouldn’t be as evident. It’s not boring but it’s not exactly fun either, which is the most damning thing that can be said about it.

Maybe this kind of internal fight against corrupt institutions doesn’t work without a bastion of truth leading the way. Maybe it’s something we just can’t put our finger on.

Or maybe we’ve all just outgrown it. I kind of doubt it, or that this will be the last piece of expensive pulp trash to get served up out of Hollywood. I certainly hope not.

THE GRAY MAN MOVIE REVIEW SCORE: 6.5 OUT OF 10

The Gray Man movie will open in select theaters on Friday, July 15 and will be available to stream on Netflix on Friday, July 22. The film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of strong violence, and strong language.

Chris Temple

Friday 15th of July 2022

If you liked the fast and furious pace of Bill Fairclough’s epic fact based spy novel Beyond Enkription in The Burlington Files series then you will love Anthony Russo's The Gray Man and vice versa. They both make parts of Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series look like slow horses! The Gray Man is about a renegade CIA agent on the run and stars Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans; it’s based on Mark Greaney's debut novel of the same name. Fairclough’s factual stand-alone thriller Beyond Enkription is about a (real life) MI6 agent on the run from international organised crime gangs and Haiti’s TonTon Macoute from London to Nassau and Port au Prince to Miami. The Gray Man and The Burlington Files are both musts for espionage aficionados.

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