The Gray Man, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Mark Greaney. Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) is known by many names. There’s his call sign of “Sierra Six,” referring to the CIA’s Sierra program where he carries out mercenary missions. And there’s his unofficial moniker of “The Gray Man,” which he earned for his ability to blend into any situation. When Gentry’s latest mission finds him in possession of an encrypted drive, CIA chief Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page) orders a hit on his head as the drive contains compromising secrets.
Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) is carrying out the hit, an amoral CIA agent who does whatever it takes to complete the mission, including putting Gentry’s mentor Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) in danger. With half the world on his tail and only his fellow agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) to help him, Gentry embarks on a mission to keep the drive out of Carmichael’s hands and save Fitzroy and his daughter Claire (Julia Butters) from Hansen’s clutches.
The genesis of The Gray Man is a long and lengthy journey. It’s passed through multiple studios, including New Regency and Sony. It even had other directors and stars attached like James Gray (Ad Astra) and Charlize Theron—yes, really! Eventually, the Russos would board to write and direct before helping shape the trajectory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with their four-film run, which includes Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Endgame. Now they’ve returned to helm The Gray Man and brought more than a few lessons from their tenure with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. They even brought a few of their Marvel collaborators along as crew members, including screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and Winter Soldier composer Henry Jackson, with Jackson delivering a haunting score.
But perhaps the most prominent thing The Gray Man has in common with the Russos’ Marvel efforts is its star-studded cast and action sequences. Gosling and Evans are the primary draws here, as they both play off of each other really well. True to his protagonist’s nom de guerre, Gosling is often stoic and calculating though he’s not without a (rather dry) sense of humor. And Evans seems to be relishing playing an absolute psychopath like Hansen; he cracks dark jokes with ease and takes to violence like a duck to water. Their first meeting is one of the film’s best sequences, with Hansen constantly referring to Gentry as “sunshine” and “pumpkin” and Gentry insulting Hansen’s “trash stache.” But, of course, the real scene stealer is de Armas as Miranda; fans disappointed with her all-too-brief sequence in No Time To Die will be happy to see her dropping opponents with ease and even saving Gentry’s bacon time after time.
The action is essentially Winter Soldier meets the Fast and the Furious, and that’s an absolute compliment. With a grand total of nine action sequences, there’s guaranteed to be at least one moment that’ll please action fans. The Russos make every use of the $200 million budget Netflix handed them with these sequences, opening with a fight between Gentry and a target at a New Year’s celebration in Bangkok and escalating to a battle on a disintegrating airplane and an apocalyptic chase through the streets of Prague. Even the quieter fights, including a showdown in a hospital with an assassin played by Bollywood icon Dhanush, are bone-crunchingly engaging. Swooping drone shots show off the sheer scale of the action and shifts in and out of focus that mimic Gentry’s perception when he’s caught in an explosion.
If there’s one criticism about the film, it’s the pacing and structure of the screenplay. Throughout the film, including its opening sequences, flashbacks reveal Gentry’s connection with the Fitzroy family and why he’s so protective of them. While I appreciate the efforts to humanize Gentry, these flashbacks appear toward the film’s first half, slowing down its momentum. If Markus and McFeely had taken another pass at the script and spread out the flashbacks a little more, they’d have a bit more bite and helped keep the movie flowing steadily.
The Gray Man is an adrenaline-laced thriller that earns its place in the upper echelon of Netflix’s original films. If you loved The Old Guard or Extraction—which the Russos also helped shape—this is right up your alley. And with Greaney having written plenty of Gray Man books, I would not be opposed to the Russos returning for more sequels.
The Gray Man is currently playing in select theaters and will be available to stream on Netflix on July 22, 2022.
The Gray Man
The Gray Man is an adrenaline-laced thriller that earns its place in the upper echelon of Netflix’s original films. If you loved The Old Guard or Extraction—which the Russos also helped shape—this is right up your alley.