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The Gray Man


‘…it’s hard going, instantly forgettable and impossible to start a franchise with…’

Hello, Netflix? Yes, I’d like to speak to the algorithm in charge, or at least whoever was responsible for The Gray Man, credited to the Russo brothers but seemingly presented by a soulless machine. The Gray Man offers wildly-generic spy-shenanigans in the tiresome vein of other Netflix wanna-be blockbusters Red Notice or 6 Underground or Extraction and other big star, zero flavour packages with the nutritional value of a chicken nugget. Films like The Gray Man, adapted from a series of books by Mark Greaney, may be original content, but they’re eternally slavish about aping franchise pics tropes and endless world building; billed star Rege Jean-Page really just bookends with exposition in a bloated action flick that reaches a final man-man confrontation in a CGI fountain in a CGI maze a good 30 minutes before the film actually ends.

Codenamed Sierra Six, Ryan Gosling plays the usual unstoppable assassin who, as a novice murderer, we see recruited from the slammer by government agent Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) before we skip to several years later. One night in Bangkok, the tough guys really do tumble as Six semi-botches a wet-job, which turns out to be the murder of another agent from the same programme. Said agent hands Six an encrypted drive, making Six a target of the agency he’s supposedly working for. Six heads to Prague to decipher the drive, but covert villain Denny Carmichael (Chris Evans) kidnaps Fitzory’s kid and ups the stakes…

The big action scene here is Six escaping from a large crowd of super-soldiers, and it’s an eye-bleeding CGI mess, with the usual mixture of astonishing and/or transparently-fake shots. A tram gets fully smashed up together with large chunks of Prague, but despite today’s technology, it’s no more fluid to watch than the terrible ‘blue-screen star/stuntman on location’ shots that mar most Bond films. This kind of scene works as a visceral release in The Bourne Supremacy, The French Connection or Bullitt, but goes for nothing here, since Six immediately turns himself in to the baddies as a strategy move. And the baddies, who have been firing missiles at him, are seemingly happy to capture him without a shot, never imagining a potential trap for a moment. Gosling seems as amazed to find himself starring in this film as I was, looking good, absolutely, but not suggesting a fraction of the inner life that he suggested in an actual film like Drive. Evans seems to be going for comedy, but the film doesn’t carry enough weight to warrant relief, and Ana de Armas is a shadow of her No Time To Die role.

The Gray Man isn’t always as dull as the title suggests; the female characters aren’t bad, there’s a certain tough-guy swagger at times, a few decent lines or neat situations, but it’s hard going, instantly forgettable and impossible to start a franchise with. Do I want to see a Netflix film in which the characters from 6 Underground, Red Notice or Extraction fight The Gray Man? It’s a hard sell because I can’t remember anything about any of them but an air of excess, an outward sheen, a paucity of fresh ideas and an awful lot of green screen…


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  1. And now there’s a sequel in the works. Netflix boasts of a “pheneomenal2 response which could of course mean given their algorithms that 200 billion people watched it for 30 seconds each.

  2. I hate to admit this, but I enjoyed it despite its many flaws, which you pointed out in your review. To me, it’s neo-Michael Bay, and it now joins my guilty pleasure list. The film desperately needed more of the Ryan Gosling charm and humor, and I enjoyed the over-the-top, evil mustache performance of Chris Evans. And poor Ana, what a waste. Netflix just can’t make a decent action movie, but I felt this was a step up from last year’s plodding “Extraction.”

    • How many strikes do Netflix get at this? Liked the swoopy camera stuff but Ambulance did it all way better and with a social conscience to boot. You could swap the stars around in all of these big Netflix products and it would make no difference. There’s not enough flavour to engage us any more than casually. A few big shots in the final punch up, and the using the mirrored glass of the hotel to track down the gunman in the tram were good bits to salvage.

  3. It’s a pity for Ana. She’s usualy so good I can’t stand seeing her transparent.
    Hell of green screens. I’m tired of them. I re-watched “last of the Mohicans” the other day. No green backgrounds but all natural and it’s totally huge anyway.

    • Agreed re Ana. And the green screen thing came up last week when talking about HD and blu-ray. It generally shows green screen work as looking fake and junky. When I had to choose 3 films from a studio catalogue, they all came from the 70’s because films were made with professional or natural light, with real sets and props, and that look won’t be bettered standing in from of a green screen in an air conditioned studio. Michael Mann is a great example of the traditional style…

    • The same discussion has taken place here. Got a few Gilmore Girls series on DVD, but not the whole thing. But if my cash is being used to make films like The Gray Man, I’ll have to consider cutting them off…

  4. Ouch, tell me what you really think… Doesn’t it depend on which lens/filter you use to view? I saw it as a ‘glib’ spy action spoof and give it a 9. As the name implies, it’s in that gray area…where Courtland Gentry can be many things. I do agree RE the other movie efforts–limp, loose fits, and like the license given to women in this movie to act, engage, move, except none of them really got to have a background story. I caught a whiff of Reno/Portman in The Professional, and a dash of male version of Gina Rowland’s Gloria… Perhaps there’s even a bit of Joel Grey as emcee in Cabaret? Eye candy was fun, pink/red and flowery power suits, fireworks, stately castles, familiar locations. The music was delightful (Missing a Wing, Against all Odds, Wild Child), and especially the seldom heard Revere song Silver Bird…’ your Walter Mitty mind…pretty bird, today’s the day.’ I will watch it again, and though I have to search a bit, still find Netflix offerings quality mind candy–recently watched Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, In From the Cold, Lincoln Lawyer, and A Call to Spy…

    • Totally agree about Lincoln Lawyer, enjoyed that show. And yes, some nice needle drops here, but $200 million of entertainment? The trimmings were better than the main meal for me, but I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it! Keep the rose coloured glasses handy for your Don’t Look Now rewatch!

  5. You obviously don’t realise this is part of a grand plan. The Netflix Dreck Universe. Next year the NDU will be bring together the heroes of this, Red Notice and 6 Underground for a grand finale with a BILLION-DOLLAR budget to prove that you can make films worse than this.

    • I get that the fans who love John Wick might watch these films, but I can’t see how anyone of any age could possibly love them. My Red Six Underground Extraction Man franchise will rule the NDU cinematic world!

        • It must be nice to not have published box office data, but the result has been a series of ‘who cares?’ films…

          • Not sure how long this strategy can last. Once subscriber numbers drop and the public resists the sharing payouts, they may see sense. The Cannon of today.

            • That’s a good comparison. Although Cannon did make some good movies, they made better deals than films, and much of their output is forgotten. Netflix have made some good stuff, but the overall impression is of a massive missed opportunity. They could and shout have created IP to last a decade. They’re left with little to hold their audience from unsubscription…

              • Few of their films have shelf life, which used to be one of the driving forces for studios. The afterlife of a movie, licensed to different places year after year, often brought in far more than initial box office.

                • Cinema has been an advert for a purchasable physical product for four decades. They could sell off their catalogue on DVD, weakening their streaming product, but it won’t conceal their lack of IP. They disrupted the financial system, but had little cultural impact beyond the grazing, thoughtless notion of Netflix and chill.

  6. I’ve been hearing bad things about this. Since it’s Netflix it will remain invisible to me. Sounds like the usual formula only not as much fun. There’s something about all this CGI that doesn’t just stifle creativity but burns it out at the root. Was the cameo by Murray Head at least enjoyable?

    • I slipped that Murray Head reference in just for you! I guess it must be nice to blow $200 million on a film that doesn’t expect to make 10 cents at the box office, but it’ll catch up with Netflix in the end. They spend billions on the most generic, anonymous product that might be watched, but can never be loved. This show didn’t even have Yul Brynner! Just as well I’m only watching the game, controlling it…

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