‘The Gray Man’ Review: Guy vs. Guy
The frenetic caper “The Gray Man,” from the directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, boasts more vibrant color than the typical globe-trotting shoot-em-up about the C.I.A., a distinctly drab organization. The Russos’ lead, an agent known as Six (Ryan Gosling), wears a snazzy red suit with matching fingernail polish to his first onscreen assassination. Six works for his freedom, not his 401(k): He is a convicted murderer who was plucked from prison by a government suit (played by Billy Bob Thornton) and placed in a secret kill squadron. He seems to be OK with the deal, despite showing a light layer of fatigue that Gosling wears like a rain poncho.
The Russos’ more-is-more filmmaking ethos leaves little room for Gosling to explore Six’s complexities. Six’s opening hit goes askew, shattering his job security. And as this extravagant adventure sprints across 10 countries, including Thailand and Azerbaijan, Six remains unflappably blasé. “I get it, you’re glib,” Thornton’s character says to him. So is every other person in the movie, a funny, if indistinguishable, blitz of quipping colleagues, snarky villains (including the main bad guy, a heavy played by Chris Evans) and a hardened cancer patient (Alfre Woodard) who glowers, “If you say anything even remotely sympathetic, I will shoot you.”
The film’s writers — Joe Russo along with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, frequent collaborators on the brothers’ films — have created a screenplay that is an assault of amusement; a barrage of bullets and one-liners. The razzle-dazzle does quite a bit to invigorate what is at its core a routine tale. (It comes as no shock that the real enemy is, as ever, the C.I.A. itself, in a story that contains no fewer than three all-too-convenient explosions.) Yet the frenzy is also distracting to the brink of self-sabotage. An early fight scene is jazzed with so many spliced-in shots of smoke and fireworks that one worries the Russos are insecure about Gosling’s ability to execute his stunts. Thankfully, the film grows in confidence and inventiveness. In later sequences, Six doggedly rescues himself from a tumbling plane, a trap door and a set of handcuffs.
Gosling and Evans appear to have made an effort to build biceps even bigger than the barrels of their automatic rifles. Evans, whom the Russos have directed as Captain America several times, appears delighted to play a self-proclaimed sociopath who is so bloodthirsty that actual sociopaths ought to sue for defamation. “Ho ho ho!” he chortles, firing a machine gun. The character is too outrageous for any believable menace, but Evans gives him a mustachioed gusto.
The caffeinated cuts and pacing never allow the audience to find its footing in the film’s large, expensive set pieces, which prevents the action from becoming truly thrilling. The best brawl is one of the smallest: It centers on two supporting players (Ana de Armas and Dhanush, a star of Tamil cinema) who strangle each other with a single cable at the same time. Note the moment during a strenuous tramway shootout when Six uses the reflection in a mirrored building to defeat a goon — it’s a clever detail in a film careening full speed ahead.
The Gray Man
Rated PG-13 for sprees of violence and profanity. Running time: 2 hours 2 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
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