Over the past few years, Netflix has released a lot of action movies. Yet the likes of Red Notice, Outside The Wire and 6 Underground are rarely remembered. So when a movie like The Gray Man comes along, with its $200m budget (a Netflix record), all-star cast and generic trailers, you wouldn’t be blamed for being a bit skeptical.
The premise doesn’t inspire either: a criminal (Ryan Gosling) is given the chance to leave prison by CIA operative Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton), provided he works as a hitman for them. Over the next 18 years, he becomes an internationally-renowned assassin known only by the codename Sierra Six. And after his most recent job he finds himself on the run from his own government who will stop at nothing to put a bullet in his head.
Despite filling in a cliché bingo card in double-quick time, The Gray Man is unpredictable and far greater than the sum of its considerable parts. The Russo Brothers, the directing duo behind the very best of the Marvel movies, have re-teamed with Avengers: Endgame writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for a script that has an awful lot of fun with conventions while never becoming a parody. The laughs are well-earned, the set-ups are satisfyingly paid off and the stunts feel meaningful to the story.
And it’s not just the script. The Russos and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon have come up with a variety of ways to keep everything looking fresh which, unlike Michael Bay’s 6 Underground, never loses sight of why the characters are fighting. Extra kudos should go to whoever downed a six pack of Red Bull before flying the drone around.
However, as much fun and as clever as it is, The Gray Man is far from perfect. Gosling’s Six is stupidly indestructible while Evans steals scenes up until his schtick wears thin. Luckily, Ana de Armas’ Dani Miranda props up the weaker plot details. She’s not the damsel, nor the love interest, rather she holds her own as an action hero. We’ve seen her do it in No Time To Die, where she was formidable and glamorous all at once – as is Gosling, who’s remarkably believable as a put-upon antihero. A sly wink here, a dry smile there, he quips and scowls his way through proceedings in a role he’ll want to return to in the long run.
That The Gray Man is based on the first of a dozen books by Mark Greaney means a sequel is likely inevitable. Fortunately, the Russo Brothers have managed a rarity in the streaming wars by making a movie that’ll please the Netflix algorithms and human beings alike. Bring on the next one.
- Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
- Starring: Chris Evans, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas
- Release date: July 15 (in select UK cinemas), July 22 (Netflix)