The Gray Man, 2022.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana De Armas, Jessica Henwick, Julia Butters, Billy Bob Thornton.
When the CIA’s most skilled operative-whose true identity is known to none-accidentally uncovers dark agency secrets, a psychopathic former colleague puts a bounty on his head, setting off a global manhunt by international assassins.
There have been many espionage action films that have stood out over the years – think the Bond franchise, Jason Bourne or Mission: Impossible – but for each of these colossal successes there is a failed franchise trying to kickstart itself, and it’s certainly a crowded field vying for attention. The latest film trying to reach the heights of marquee franchise is Netflix’s The Gray Man from the Russo Brothers, the minds behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, adapting Mark Greaney’s novel series of the same name.
Greaney is likened to Tom Clancy and so along with the directors there is a huge amount of talent involved and it doesn’t just lie behind the camera either as the film is bolstered by an array of star names from Ryan Gosling as our lead Sierra Six, The Gray Man himself, Chris Evans as the moustached and unhinged villain Lloyd Hansen, and Ana De Armas, fresh off her acclaimed role in No Time To Die and continuing her move into action cinema, as agent Dani Miranda.
The Gray Man focuses on Sierra Six, a CIA Black Ops operative, who on one of his assignments is given some encrypted information that contains secrets about his superiors and puts Six and those close to him in danger, namely Billy Bob Thornton’s Donald Fitzroy who hired Six to the programme from prison, along with his niece Claire (Julia Butters).
What ensues is a fight to uncover the truth at a breakneck pace as Six has to stay one step ahead of Hansen who is allowed any means necessary to eliminate Six no matter the collateral damage. The action, as one might expect from the Russos, is relentless and there are some enjoyable set pieces particularly during an extended action sequence in Prague involving a bus fight, car chase and shootout.
It’s a welcome return to the screen for Ryan Gosling in his first role since 2018’s First Man, who here is more in tune with his toned down roles in Blade Runner 2049 and Drive. Chris Evans meanwhile is clearly having a ball as Hansen, building on his villainous role in Knives Out, and he has several fun scenes with Gosling.
The story itself might not be the most original, riffing on ground covered perhaps more effectively in the Bourne films or David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde, but with a cast this stellar it is hard to peel your eyes of the screen and its clear the actors are all having a great time knocking seven bells out of each other. Fans of the genre are sure to enjoy its riffs on classic tropes and sense of fun propelled by Henry Jackman’s explosive and layered score.
If not an all-timer within a tried-and-tested genre, The Gray Man is a strong showcase for its leads, their screen presence and ability to carry the source material which can be overloading with exposition on occasion. The action packs a punch but it is a shame the story and characters feel underdeveloped. Whether or not this will be the mega franchise Netflix clearly has planned will depend on audience reaction as reviews have been middling but based on the cast alone it would be hard to bet against The Gray Man spawning sequels, spin-offs and prequels galore.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★