Movie Reviews

‘The Gray Man’ review: Netflix’s most expensive movie ever misses the mark

Netflix's new movie starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans has stylish action scenes galore, but lacks substance.

Chris Evans in "The Gray Man."
Chris Evans in "The Gray Man." Paul Abell/Netflix

“The Gray Man,” Netflix‘s new action movie starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, represents everything the streaming giant wants to be doing as a company. Facing plateauing subscriber growth and sagging profits, the company has reportedly committed itself to releasing fewer projects, instead choosing to focus on big-budget titles with A-list talent.

As a Hollywood Reporter headline succinctly put it, the company’s strategy is “bigger, fewer, and better.”

“The Gray Man” is certainly bigger: It’s the studio’s most expensive movie ever, and places Evans, Gosling, and fellow star Ana de Armas (“Knives Out”) in a never-ending string of bombastic, effects-heavy action set pieces. In the film’s tone-setting opening sequence, Gosling’s CIA hitman (known only as “Six”) battles a target on a rooftop that is launching thousands of fireworks, preparing viewers for the concussive, eye-popping film to come.

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Ultimately, “The Gray Man” is a lot like a Fourth of July fireworks show: It’s fun to watch, and you can appreciate the visual craftsmanship while caught up in the moment. But you’re not watching anything new or innovative, and if someone were to ask you your favorite part 30 minutes after it was over, you’d struggle to articulate a single thing that happened beyond “things went boom.”

The Plot

“The Gray Man” spends the first 20 minutes whisking viewers from country to country as we learn the backstory of Six (Gosling), a former inmate plucked from his cell by the CIA and given a life sentence as an extrajudicial hitman. His former handler (Billy Bob Thornton) is retired, and Six would love to figure out an exit plan as well. But when he obtains incriminating evidence against a corrupt CIA bureaucrat (Regé-Jean Page, “Bridgeton”), Six goes from hitman to target.

Because the CIA usually uses Six for not-so-legal killings like this one, they instead turn to a loose cannon named Lloyd Hansen (Evans). While Six isn’t bound by laws, Lloyd isn’t constrained by either laws or a moral compass, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his pursuit.

Ana de Armas and Ryan Gosling in "The Gray Man."
Ana de Armas and Ryan Gosling in “The Gray Man.”

The Good

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (“Avengers: Endgame”) have been given a proverbial blank check by Netflix, and they have left it all on the screen. The brothers have always known how to direct stylish, compelling action sequences, from their early days helming the paintball-themed episodes of “Community” to the four Marvel movies they directed last decade.

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Thanks to those films, the Russos also know what they have in Evans, who gets the most laughs in “The Gray Man” playing a cartoonishly evil antagonist. Sporting a villainous mustache, Evans smirks his way through the movie, spouting intentionally hackneyed line-readings like “Make him dead.”

Though they spend precious little time onscreen together, Gosling and Evans’ chemistry is undeniable. In the moments when they get to face off, you’ll wish that “The Gray Man” had ditched a half-dozen other characters to give these two more time to pulverize each other with their words and their fists.

The Bad

The Russos have experience both parodying action procedurals on “Community,” and then directing fun, quippy superhero movies for Marvel. Unfortunately, they can’t quite decide whether the tone of “The Gray Man” is winking or sincere.

Gosling, who in the past has superbly played both a buttoned-up killer in “Drive” and a goofy criminal in “The Nice Guys,” suffers most from the bifurcated approach. One moment, he’s flashing back to his father drowning him in a bathtub or burning him with a car cigarette lighter. Minutes later, he’s engaging in completely straight-faced dialogue with de Armas’ CIA agent that seems like it’s meant to be funny and charming, but didn’t elicit any laughs from the screening I saw.

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There’s also a tossed-in subplot involving the teenage daughter of Thornton’s retired CIA honcho that tries to humanize Six that doesn’t really work and isn’t needed. The less said about it, the better.

The Bottom Line

“The Gray Man” is just a perfectly average action film, slotting well below the likes of “Mission: Impossible” and “John Wick” in quality, but providing enough inoffensive entertainment to fill two hours. That said, given Netflix’s expenditures and the star pedigree on screen, audiences deserve — and should expect — more.

Should I watch “The Gray Man”?

Netflix is releasing “The Gray Man” in theaters starting July 15 before it debuts on the streaming platform July 22. Though action movies are always more fun on the big screen, “The Gray Man” isn’t quite good enough to be a theatrical must-see.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 4).

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