Directed by the Russo brothers of Avengers: Endgame fame, The Gray Man is Netflix’s most expensive production yet with a budget of $200 million.

A still from The Gray Man, showing Dhanush kneeling on one knee on top of a carDhanush/Instagram
Flix Entertainment Friday, July 22, 2022 - 18:07

Think of a blockbuster Hollywood action thriller, and you are likely to find a few common elements – a high-stakes setting, car chases, superhuman action sequences, and very clearly demarcated protagonists and antagonists, usually hypermasculine. The Gray Man has all of these along with an ensemble cast including Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, and Tamil star Dhanush, as well as gorgeous filming locales across Europe, elaborate sets, and impressively choreographed action. Yet, the Russo brothers’ latest offering – made on a whopping budget of $200 million, Netflix’s priciest for a film till 2021 – while fun, offers little else that stands out and is not already seen in classic Hollywood action franchises like Mission Impossible, James Bond, John Wick and the like. If anything, it lacks the latter's style.

The Gray Man follows Sierra Six, the moniker given to a CIA mercenary played by Ryan Gosling, who is on the run following a discovery he makes on one of his missions. We spend a majority of the 120-minute duration of the film between the adventures of Six, who is trying to evade capture with some help from agent Miranda (Ana de Armas), and the CIA’s attempts to catch him and get the “asset” he possesses. Regé-Jean Page (who shot to fame with his role in Bridgerton) plays Denny Carmichael of the CIA, puppeteering the operation for Six’s capture, and employs Llyod Hansen (Chris Evans), a former CIA agent who now runs a mercenary operation outside the bounds of the law. And we see Dhanush as ‘Lone Wolf’ around the halfway point in the film as one of the many mercenaries on Six’s trail thanks to the global hit put out by Lloyd.

The actors do their best, despite the letdowns of a formulaic script. What’s striking about Ryan Gosling’s performance is the poker face (we learn why too) he maintains through the film, with some predictable wit and punchlines, without making the acting seem lacking. Ana’s Miranda is a good supporting character and plays the role of the badass woman agent navigating a sticky situation well, and intervening at just the right times. Dhanush, who does not have much dialogue in the film, gets to showcase his action skills in some cool combat scenes with Ryan as well as Ana. While in a limited role, the Tamil actor delivers a memorable performance and stands out as the mercenary with the moral compass. Apart from Ana, the two other women characters – Suzanne Brewer (Jessica Henwick), a CIA employee overseeing Six’s capture while trying to appeal to the better parts of Denny and Lloyd’s conscience; former CIA head, Margaret Cahill (Alfre Woodard), and Six's recruiter Donald Fitzroy's (Billy Bob Thornton) neice, Claire Fitzroy (Julia Butters) – play roles significant to the plot, but without much meat.

But the most impressive perhaps is Chris Evans as a delightfully psychopathic Lloyd who seems to have no qualms about killing, damage, and the human “collateral” he loses to get to his goal. His (arguably) most iconic role in recent times is Captain America in the Marvel films (four of which were incidentally directed by the Russo brothers). It is great to see the actor’s range for he owns the cruel, crass, and unlikeable Lloyd just as he did the virtuous superhero with the unbreakable shield.

The action and combat scenes in The Gray Man are grand and impressively choreographed. The cinematography by Stephen F Windon (of Fast and the Furious fame) is pacy, chaotic yet seamless in these scenes with the camera sometimes rapidly zooming sideways and tilting to follow the action. Action buffs will enjoy the myriad of explosions, chases, and shootouts in the film, along with some stylish hand-to-hand combat. Two scenes in particular are very well executed. One is set in a New Year’s Eve party in Thailand, and picturised in bright colours that deliciously contrast with the dire situation. And the other is set in a square in Prague, with lots of elements of choreography and infrastructure being skillfully incorporated to make a gripping scene. The music by Henry Jackman is enjoyable too, making the action-packed sequences more pacy and upbeat.

Despite all that The Gray Man has going for it, one cannot help but expect more from the directors – Anthony and Joe Russo. The duo directed two of the most popular films to have come out from the Marvel universe – Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War. What made the latter two films tick was not just the grandeur and adventure, but that the films gave us characters who, despite being clearly demarcated into the good guys and bad guys, weren’t just black and white. The Gray Man ultimately comes across as another film trying to make up for having a run-of-the-mill espionage action story with the frills of big production elements. While it is a formulaic, fun, one-time watch, there isn’t much else to remember it by.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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