The Gray Man is a 2022 American action thriller film directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and is based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Mark Greaney. The film stars Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, and Billy Bob Thornton.
So the first thing one can say about The Gray Man is that it is fast-paced – apparently The Russo Brothers were told that they needed to keep rushing during the film if they wanted Netflix funding to continue. The movie begins as does every great spy/assassin thriller, with a man who doesn’t really want the job but it’s his only chance for redemption. We see Sierra Six (as apparently 007 was taken)- Ryan Gosling, who may not have played a superhero (yet) but he gets closer than ever in this movie- being recruited by a CIA biggie, while he serves out his sentence for killing his father to protect his younger brother. So this lays the foundation that Sierra Six has a strong moral code apparently.
We next see Sierra Six, as a seasoned assassin, on a mission in Bangkok working with fellow CIA Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) to assassinate a target suspected of selling off national security secrets. He is unable to do so stealthily without harming civilians and attacks the target directly, mortally wounding him. Before dying, the target reveals that he worked in the Sierra program too as Sierra Four, and hands Six an encrypted drive detailing the corruption of CIA official Denny Carmichael, who is the lead agent on the assassination mission.
As Sierra Six gets suspicious and refuses to tell Carmichael that he received an encrypted drive and sends the drive to ex-Sierra program handler Margaret Cahill in Prague. Carmichael hires mercenary Lloyd Hansen, an ex-CIA Agent kicked out of the agency for his sociopathic tendencies, to track down Six and retrieve the drive. Hansen does so by kidnapping Fitzroy’s niece Claire, forcing Fitzroy to authorize Six’s murder by the extraction team. However, Six kills them and escapes. Frustrated, Carmichael sends his subordinate Suzanne Brewer to oversee Hansen and keep him in line. Hansen keeps Claire hostage in a mansion in Croatia, where he has based his operations. Hansen also puts a bounty on Six’s head to attract mercenaries and assassins to hunt him down. Six heads to Vienna to find Claire’s pacemaker’s serial number from Laszlo Sosa, but Sosa betrays him for the bounty. Six escapes just as Hansen arrives with his team, and is rescued by Miranda. Miranda’s reputation is in tatters following the Bangkok mission and she initially plans to bring him in to salvage her career at the CIA. Six convinces her to drive him to Cahill’s apartment in Prague, where she decrypts the drive, which reveals the extent of Carmichael’s corruption on behalf of a mysterious benefactor working for a shadow government. Hansen sends several teams of assassins to Cahill’s home, and the terminally ill Cahill blows up her home to give Six and Miranda a chance to escape.
Six is arrested and handcuffed in the square. A shootout in the streets of Prague follows and Six escapes on a tram. A long chase and gun battle ensues, and Six is saved by Miranda, in Cahill’s bulletproof car. The two infiltrate a hospital to track down Claire through the wireless signal broadcast from her pacemaker. The mercenary “Lone Wolf” – Dhanush as some Sri Lankan Ninja who steals the drive from them, knocking them out, and brings the drive to Hansen. Six and Miranda follow the pacemaker to Hansen’s base. Miranda creates a distraction while Six infiltrates the mansion and rescues Fitzroy and Claire. Fitzroy is mortally wounded as they flee and sacrifices himself in a failed attempt to kill Hansen. Miranda knocks out Hansen’s men, but Lone Wolf narrowly escapes. He defeats Miranda in a fight but gives her the drive, having become disgusted with Hansen’s willingness to kill children and his lack of morals.
Hansen manages to take Claire hostage and drags her into a hedge maze. After a standoff, Hansen lets go of Claire and fights with Six. Before Six can kill him, Hansen is shot and killed by Brewer, who tells Six that she plans to pin Carmichael’s actions on Hansen in order to gain leverage over him. Furthermore, Brewer pledges Claire’s safety but only if Six continues to work for the CIA. Six and Miranda are forced to co-operate in the cover-up, where ultimately no action is taken against Carmichael. After the debriefing at the CIA headquarters, Miranda threatens to kill Carmichael if any harm comes to Claire. Six escapes custody and frees Claire, who is being held at a secret location.
MCU juggernauts Joe and Anthony Russo share directing duties, promising splashy stunts to take advantage of the ludicrous budgets Netflix drops for such star-studded projects. Despite all this, The Gray Man fails to be solidly fun. Instead, it feels like a mixtape, pulling bits from a bunch of much better, much more daring action movies, to create a medley that is mediocre at best. There are instances of different movies which are scattered throughout the movie. Like Suicide Squad, Six (Gosling) is a “hardened criminal” who is let out of prison to go on top-secret assassination assignments for a shady government organization. Like The Bourne Identity, this highly trained assassin falls out of the organization’s good graces when he botches a hit to save a child bystander. Like the Bourne franchise or Black Widow, he goes on the run to preserve his life and bring the shady organization down. Like John Wick, a huge bounty is put on his head, sending a swarm of killers on his tail. Like Léon: The Professional, he’s trying to best the baddies while protecting a young orphan girl (Julia Butters) from harm. She was “Taken” by a mercurial mercenary (Evans), so Six and his “particular set of skills” are on a mission to get the girl, save the day, and limp off into the sunset, maybe with his pretty female colleague (de Armas).
There are plenty of fight scenes, but the actual fight choreography is frequently uninspired hand-to-hand combat. The Russos seem to know these sequences fall flat; as if to distract us, the editing is especially frenetic, bounding from location to location without concern for visual flow or spatial geography. This turns several fight scenes, including a sprawling, city-smashing car chase, into an illogical blur. In terms of the cast, Chris Evans is wicked fun as a mustachioed villain. Like his MCU bud Chris Hemsworth in Spiderhead, Chris Evans seems to relish the opportunity to slide into a baddie role. If you loved him as the lusciously sweatered, duplicitous douche in Knives Out, you’ll appreciate his distinctive turn as Lloyd Hansen, a gleeful killer with the trash ‘stache of a Boston cop and the casual wear of a Wall Street dirtbag. Sadly, the dialogue repeatedly lets him and the rest of the cast down.
While Evans’ manic energy makes some of his rougher lines go down smooth enough, Gosling and de Armas stumble in their cool posturing, trying to find the fun in bickering over keyboard typing and gun-throwing etiquette. Their chemistry is likewise lackluster, making the will-they-won’t-they of their edged flirtations more frustrating than fun. Gosling’s slow-burn performance is smothered by all the smoke, explosions, flickering lights, and clamorous cutting. Where his cool-as-a-cucumber Six should play as a slick foil to Evans’ volatile villain, the film is too caught up in its flashy visual confetti to dig into character. Anything below a big gesture is lost in the fray.
Watch the movie to for the sensory overload – it’s a bit like being trapped inside a first-person shooter challenge being played by a 16-year-old gamer – The Gray Man is undeniably entertaining.