The Gray Man, 2022.
Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, Billy Bob Thornton, Eme Ikwuakor, Scott Haze, Deobia Oparei, Daz Crawford, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Aishwarya Sonar, Callan Mulvey, Robert Kazinsky, Boone Platt, and Martin Harris.
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.
The Gray Man has no story or characters and nothing on its mind but expensive carnage. To the credit of Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (somewhat back in their wheelhouse after the ambitious but flawed Tom Holland-starring drug addiction tale Cherry), there is potential in every one of these action sequences (one of them involving a hand-to-hand combat fight surrounded by barrels of fireworks exploding right in front of characters’ eyes that also makes for a stylistic environmental filter is a standout), only for them to fall flat typically due to some combination of choppy editing, weightless stakes, a confused tone, and monotony.
And when I say weightless stakes, that doesn’t mean characters are invincible, or there’s no urgency to the story. Although there is a teenage hostage with a pacemaker that somehow has no physical reaction to countless explosions and gunfire surrounding her, ignoring the fact that her uncle freaked out about this when she learned the villains were going to torture him, which is absolutely distressing but has nothing on grenades and jumping off courtyard walls into bodies of water.
Some characters die, but it’s hard to give a damn considering how bare-bones the writing is here (Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely handle the screenplay, adapting Mark Greaney’s novel). It’s not even a spoiler to say what the villain’s nefarious motives are because it could be summed up as simply as covering up crimes that don’t mean anything to us in the story’s context.
Instead, tired and cliché events spur the action into motion. Ryan Gosling is Court Gentry (I wish I were making that name up), aks Sierra Six. Essentially, he is a dangerous criminal locked up for life and was put into a government program offering a modicum of freedom, so long as he carries out gray area jobs for the CIA. They have also turned on Sierra Six, sending another Sierra to kill him. Fortunately, he can trust one of his allies (Ana de Armas), but it’s almost shocking how little she is given to do.
Now, before you think the hero may be a nasty and unlikable person that audiences are forced to root for, hold that thought as an annoying reveal (and one of the only attempts at character growth) softens his crime into a dark situation for the greater good. Sierra Six also has bodyguard experience watching over program leader Donald Fitzroy’s (Billy Bob Thornton, who barely looks like he’s trying even during some of his more demanding scenes) niece Claire (Julia Butters, the hilarious scene-stealing child actor from Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood). Furthermore, the flashback jokey banter between Claire and Sierra Six and her trust in his protective abilities and determination to rescue her and her uncle from bad guys is the only decent and engaging material here.
Chris Evans is playing a deranged psychopath hired to kill Sierra Six and clean up the CIA’s mess, which is not necessarily a good performance but at least something showing personality. He is also having so much fun playing a torturer and smart-ass that it feels like he’s part of a different movie that’s taking itself far less seriously than The Gray Man. However, while this starts amusing, it not only becomes repetitive, but the clap backs and snark lines both get lazy and feel like Chris Evans did one take for each and with directors that didn’t care if the dialogue felt natural or funny. There is also no choice but to turn the character into a walking punchline since the rating here is PG-13, which drastically limits torture options in psychopathic behavior.
All that’s left is the globetrotting action, and even the globetrotting stops once the story gets to Prague as our assassins chase each other down, fighting for possession of a flash drive containing the dirty laundry of CIA agent Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page). There is also some in-house arguing between him and another agent (Jessica Henwick) that he is planning to make the scapegoat should Sierra Six survive every attack and decrypt the contents of the drive.
The Gray Man is a convoluted mess that amounts to nothing, with less impressive set pieces the longer the movie goes on. It’s admirable that there seems to be a great amount of stunt work involved, but when the results are muddled and carry no investment in the characters or story, even a climactic fistfight showdown feels bland. It’s a shame because even accounting for the lackluster narrative, there are several exciting ideas within the action sequences, but they don’t pan out with pinpoint staging, clarity, and thills.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com