‘The Gray Man‘ is the Russo brothers’ latest Netflix action movie, starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans in lead roles as Sierra Six and Lloyd Hansen, respectively. The duo, Anthony and Joe, who rose to prominence with some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s highest-rated movies like ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame’, bring their brand of explosive style mixed with emotional moments, and the occasional humour to this OTT release.
The story, based on Mark Greaney’s 2009 novel of the same name, includes all the classic tropes of a spy-gone-rogue movie. Obviously, the CIA is involved. Gosling’s Sierra Six is an agency asset with no official record, whose job is to go to places where the US Central Intelligence Agency can’t officially go – which basically translates to wetwork. He was recruited by Billy Bob Thornton’s Donald Fitzroy, a senior CIA agent who becomes a father figure to Sierra Six, who – surprise surprise – has father issues. It had landed him in jail, which is where Fitzroy recruited him and trained Sierra Six to become a skilled assassin, a ghost.
However, he is a killer with a conscience. This makes things difficult for Regé-Jean Page’s Denny Carmichael, an up-and-coming CIA agent at Langley. Carmichael sends Six to eliminate a target in Bangkok, but Gosling’s character finds out his mark is Sierra Four, someone in the same black ops program as him. Four hands him with a drive and raises questions about the person who entrusted Six with the mission.
The drive has dirt on Carmichael, showing unsanctioned CIA missions, which is why the agent was eager to retrieve it.
Now that Six has it, Carmichael brings in Hansen, a “sociopathic” former CIA assassin, who runs a private military outfit. Evans’ character wastes no time in establishing himself as the bad guy, going after Fitzroy’s niece and thus getting the now-retired CIA agent under his thumb. In the meantime, he also puts out a hit on Six all in the effort to retrieve the information.
Carmichael calls in Six’s partner from his Bangkok mission, Ana de Armas’ Dani Miranda, to question her about the rogue asset’s whereabouts. She smells something wrong and decides to go out and clear her name.
Six, meanwhile, goes to Europe – on the run, and looking to get to the bottom of things. The action follows him there, with Hansen giving chase and Miranda trying to help Six. Our hero also has a soft spot for the niece, Julia Butters’ Claire Fitzroy. He had been tasked by the CIA agent once to look after her and the two formed a bond.
So, the hero’s mission is twofold. Get the dirty secrets out and free his father-figure recruiter and the girl who represents the innocence he lost.
This is where the Russo brothers work their magic. There are some emotional moments like Fitzroy’s sacrifice to give his niece and Six some time to outrun Hansen and London office chief Margaret Cahill’s sacrifice in Prague to allow Six to escape pursuit. A few light-hearted moments are sprinkled in as well – like an argument between Six and Miranda about whether he should have thrown her a loaded gun and Six’s constant questions about whether someone is wearing the same sized clothes or shoes as him. The rogue asset’s attire seems to take more damage than him in the course of many wild adventures including a train explosion in Prague and a shootout in the city square.
The abovementioned adventures and many such instances of Hansen pursuing Six, and the latter trying to rescue Fitzroy and his niece from Hansen’s captivity make up the bulwark of action in the movie. One gets a sense of the old MCU formula of success – action, emotion, humour, all echo in this Netflix release.
However, while for superhero movies, there is always something novel no matter how many times the tale is told, the impact isn’t quite as charming when it comes to a spy action film.
If it comes to a CIA asset going rogue in Europe, Jason Bourne did it all before. The action in Matt Damon’s first appearance in the franchise was a sight better and more realistic than in ‘The Gray Man’ too, though this should take nothing away from the very slick sequences in the Russo brothers’ film.
The ‘Bourne’ movie even had the father-son dynamic down between the person who got the asset into the CIA training program in the first place and Damon’s character.
Even if one takes the bond between Six and Claire, films like ‘Leon the Professional’ have done it before.
Despite the lack of originality, ‘The Gray Man’ delivers in its entertainment quotient. Ana de Armas is a delight to watch, and is turning out to be quite a nice fit for action movies, having previously made a mark playing Paloma in Daniel Craig’s last James Bond movie ‘No Time to Die‘. Similarly, Butters, who rose to prominence in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ delivers an impressive performance again.
Gosling is a veteran action hero by now and slips effortlessly into the strong-silent type of protagonist that suits the genre so well. Evans, who’s been directed by the duo in ‘Captain America‘ and ‘Avengers’ movies before, tries his range playing the bad guy here, but despite a good performance in ‘Knives Out’, there’s still some ways to go until the audience forgets his iconic stint as the first Avenger.
Indian actor Dhanush, who made his Hollywood debut, delivers a laudable performance as Lone Wolf, a solo assassin hailing from Tamil Nadu, who almost gets the better of both Six and Miranda, but has his own code of honour.
With strong performances all around, ‘The Gray Man’ manages to add a splash of colour to an otherwise grey script. The Russo brothers have a finger on the audience’s pulse and know how to make a movie that is enjoyable to watch. It’s got guns blazing, people jumping out of airplanes, European towns witnessing destruction, and the kind of hand-to-hand combat that everybody loves watching ever since ‘John Wick’ hit Hollywood.
There’s so much going on, that you’ll almost forget the story doesn’t have much else going for it. The Russo brothers score high on style with ‘The Gray Man’, and with their formula for success, one doesn’t often need substance.