After making one of the highest grossing film in the world, the Russo Brothers would have been forgiven for just giving audiences more of the same and going down the blockbuster route. However, their follow up to Avengers: Endgame (2019) proved to be something quite unexpected, with the duo collaborating on the underrated crime drama Cherry (2021).
Cherry proved to be quite divisive amongst critics and fans alike, with many seemingly disappointed at the Russo’s approach to the material. Personally, while flawed, I thought Cherry was still an exceptionally well made film bolstered by a suitably nuanced performance from Tom Holland. If anything, it also proved that the Russo Brothers were capable of more than big budget action movies.
However, perhaps they took Cherry’s less than stellar reception to heart, as they are now fully back in the big budget action arena with their latest, The Gray Man. While the budget of The Gray Man may be less than the likes of Avengers: Endgame, it still comes with an estimated $200 million budget, making it the largest budgeted Netflix movie to date.
While not on the same scale as Avengers: Endgame, the budget is clearly on screen, with there being no shortage of massive scale action sequences. However, those looking for the type of character depth shown in Cherry will be sorely disappointed, with the majority of characters being only surface level.
This doesn’t mean that the actors don’t do good work, with everyone giving their parts their all, injecting life into roles that would otherwise be classed as underwritten. Considering Gosling’s Court Gentry/Sierra Six is meant to be the mysterious one, you learn as much, if not more about him than any of the other non-mysterious characters. Still, this isn’t really an issue as the Russo Brothers keep everything moving at such a breakneck pace that you won’t really care about minor script issues.
Based on the book of the same name from author Mark Greaney, The Gray Man focuses on the exploits of Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) a.k.a Sierra Six, one of the C.I.A.’s most skilled assassins. Nothing much is known of Six, with his true identity only known to Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) who recruited him years before.
When a mission goes awry, Six uncovers evidence of the corruption of up and coming CIA official Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page) who just so happens to be leading Six’s current mission.
In order to uncover the truth Six has no choice but to go on the run which forces Carmichael to bring in rogue agent Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), who is willing to go to any lengths to catch his prey which means going after those closest to Six. Accompanying Hansen is C.I.A. Agent Suzanne Brewer (Jessica Henwick) who doesn’t agree with Hansen’s methods but ultimately is more scared of Six leaking the evidence he holds.
Six’s mission takes him around the globe, surviving one close shave after the next. His only ally on his journey is C.I.A. agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) who realizes that her bosses can’t be trusted.
The Gray Man has taken quite a while to reach the screen. It was in development years back when Brad Pitt was attached to star. That film would have clearly been very different from what finally reached the screen, with We Own the Night (2007) director James Gray originally being in the frame to direct. One look at Gray’s filmography tells you how different his approach would be from the Russo Brothers.
Gray’s take would no doubt have been more cerebral than what we have here, with action being the main focus of the Russo’s version of The Gray Man. In this area it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Featuring numerous shootouts, car chases and a generous helping of hand to hand combat. The Gray Man is probably the most action heavy film of the summer. The action is suitably over the top, with characters pulling off feats that no real human would survive. In many respects the action is very much in the vein of the Russo’s Marvel work, with the closest comparison I can think of being Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).
Many critics online have complained about the stronger focus on action, noting the thinness of the plot and characters. As I mentioned, this is true to a point, but it in no way affects the film. To be honest, the same accusation could be levied at some of the best action films ever made. The likes of The Raid (2011) and John Wick (2014) aren’t exactly plot heavy or deep in character but are still heralded as classics.
As shown with their previous films, the Russo Brothers have a sure grip on the material with all of the action being expertly staged and they make sure you can follow the action. There’s no obtrusive shaky cam here. The only issue with the action is that it seems the Russo Brothers were bought a drone for Christmas, with them seriously overusing it at points. The camera work reminded me of Michael Bay’s Ambulance (2022), although not as extreme. Thankfully, this dies down as the film proceeds, being used more for establishing shots when the story changes location.
The only other minor drawback during the film’s action is the inclusion of some underpar CGI, but this is mostly limited to a couple of shots and certainly nothing as poor as recent Netflix actioner The Man From Toronto (2022).
I initially wasn’t sure of the age rating before viewing The Gray Man, so didn’t know how violent the action would get. Upon checking, the film is a 15 in the UK whereas in the U.S. it is a PG-13 which is more appropriate to the level of violence on screen. There is some blood on show, most memorably involving a knife through someone’s hand, but there’s nothing that goes to extreme levels. This may disappoint those that feel action movies require an R rating but it never really becomes an issue.
The most impressive action comes in the mid section of the film, with a lengthy set piece in and around the streets of Vienna where Gosling and De Armas have to fend off an army of hired mercenaries. Heavy on the destruction and collateral damage, it is definitely the highlight of the film although the remainder of the action is still quality with a rough and ready beat down where Gosling and De Armas have to face off against Dhanush’s “Lone Wolf” being particularly memorable.
In fact, both fights against Dhanush manage to impress, which somewhat dilutes the impact of the inevitable face off between Gosling and Evans, which pales in comparison to the previous fight scenes. This isn’t to say it is poorly done, but I did expect more from it.
Speaking of Gosling and Evans, both are terrific in their respective roles. Gosling has got himself into terrific shape to portray Gentry and throws himself right into the action. He is certainly the more subdued between him and Evans, but he still injects some much needed humour into the role. Gosling has been involved with action films before, with the likes of Gangster Squad (2013) and The Nice Guys (2016) under his belt, but nothing in those would have prepared him for the level of action mayhem he finds himself in.
In regards to Evans, he excels as the film’s main villain Lloyd Hansen. He had already shown his villainous streak in Knives Out (2019), but that wouldn’t prepare audiences for how he presents himself here. Sporting a natty mustache that makes him resemble a 70’s porn star, Hansen has virtually no redeeming feature, being totally devoid of a moral compass and willing to do whatever it takes to complete his mission.
Evans seems to revel in playing someone that is the polar opposite of Captain America, carrying out some deplorable feats. Hansen isn’t averse to torture or even murder if required. While he doesn’t get as much of a chance to show off his action chops as the Captain America movies, he easily runs away with the film’s best lines and brings a much needed sense of fun.
The supporting cast don’t get as much to do but still manage to make an impression. Ana de Armas had already proven her action credentials with her scene stealing turn in No Time to Die (2021). Thankfully she isn’t just an extended cameo this time round, with her appearing in the majority of the film’s run time. Sure her character may not have much depth, but de Armas is just so engaging and likeable that you will find yourself rooting for her.
Regé-Jean Page is probably best known for his role in another Netflix production, Bridgerton (2020). He doesn’t get much to do here and considering he is one of the film’s main villains he is decidedly nonthreatening no matter how hard he tries. Jessica Henwick is similarly short changed, even if she does get a more rewarding role than Page. Even so, after seeing her action credentials in Iron Fist (2017) I was hoping she would get more to do.
The likes of Billy Bob Thornton and Alfre Woodard bring a bit of gravitas to proceedings even if their screen time is limited. One actor who I wished had more screen time was Dhanush who is introduced late in the day but plays more than just a one note villain. A big star in India, this marks his first role in a Hollywood blockbuster which will hopefully open him up to a wider audience.
Clearly I enjoyed The Gray Man more than some critics, but ultimately I think the majority of action fans will be able to look past its minor issues and just revel in the spectacular destruction the Russo Brothers have created. The Gray Man is apparently the first in a planned series, depending on how successful the film is. I for one am looking forward to the further adventures of Sierra Six.
Plot: 3/5 Acting: 4.5/5 Action: 4.5/5 Overall: 4/5