The Gray Man

The Gray Man Is Limp and Lazy

Dept. of Damp Squibs


Hold up. Wait just a damn minute. Is Regé-Jean Page, in fact, a terrible actor? Is that why we barely see him say anything in that Dungeons & Dragons trailer? Were we tricked by his pretty face and perfect ass? Given his brief but gauche performance in The Gray Man, it would appear that maybe he is best suited to brooding about his daddy issues and licking spoons. Am I being overly harsh? Talk to me after you’ve seen him in this movie, clumsily ham his way through every argument with Jessica Henwick.

If this one nitpick seems like an odd hill to die on, then you probably haven’t seen The Gray Man – yet another bloated, big budget action blockbuster from Netflix that is driven by hype rather than any real substance. (See also: Red Notice.) It is a 200 million dollar movie where Regé-Jean Page’s bad acting was the final straw that broke this critic’s back.

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The Gray Man

Based on the best-selling book by Mark Greaney, The Gray Man tells of Courtland Gentry (a bored Ryan Gosling), or Sierra Six, the hard as nails, off the books mercenary, who the CIA sends out to do the dirty work that they can’t be seen doing. He’s a killer with a conscience. He’s quippy. He’s a character that’s been cobbled together from a bunch of other cleverer, cooler movies. A little bit Nobody. A little bit John Wick. With a little bit of The Equalizer and Taken thrown in for good measure. I should note that this isn’t how Gentry is drawn in the novels. Here it is just a lazy and uninspired shorthand that the Russos, and their screenwriters Markus and McFeely, use in order to cheat their way out of doing any real character development.

When our hero goes rogue after coming in possession of a top secret USB MacGuffin, Regé-Jean Page’s Denny Carmichael, who is constantly whinging about how much he hates working with mercenaries he can’t control, hires a mercenary who he can’t control to chase Six down across a whole bunch of countries with film production tax breaks. And while Chris Evans seems to be having a great time chewing the scenery as the aforementioned mercenary, his character too suffers from being underwritten and overexplained. Why is he unhinged? Because everyone in the movie keeps saying that he is dammit! Show us, don’t just tell us.

The dialogue is cringeworthy. The pacing is awful. There is no tension. The green screen is so prevalent that it undermines every thrill. And the second act backstory of a character, whose only purpose is to make Six come across as more sympathetic, feels so forced that it will having you rolling your eyes.

Ironically, all of these elements were handled very well in Greaney’s potboiler of a novel. The blueprint already exists. So there really is very little excuse for this movie to feel as meandering as it does. (Also, it cost 200 million dollars!)

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The Gray Man

The most egregious misstep, however, lies in just how boring and half baked all of the action set pieces are. Don’t claim to make an action movie and then not actually show us the action. Every fight scene in The Gray Man is obscured. The first is hidden by smoke from fireworks. The second by flares. The third sequence, which takes place inside a house, has the camera pull out to show us what it looks like from the outside. And a “climactic” sequence in Prague would have been exciting if the visual effects weren’t so terrible. There is also the kind of lazy shaky cam work and quick cuts that are usually employed when your A-list actors can’t quite pull off a convincing close-up fight.

If your movie relies on the fact that your protagonist is the best and most sought after mercenary the world has ever known, then you need to actually show us how good he is at his job. If Lloyd Hansen is supposed be the brilliant foil to Sierra Six, then the movie needs to be a tense cat and mouse game between both these characters. Here Hansen is incompetent and Six is just witless.

All of it feels a little uninventive. More so in a world where movies like John Wick, and Extraction, and The Raid, and The Bourne Identity exist.

The Gray Man is the clickbait of movies. It dupes you into watching it with big names and flashy marketing, but doesn’t deliver even a modicum of what was promised. (Has Netflix become the World of Buzz of streaming services?) They roll out Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling. Ana de Armas and Regé-Jean Page. Dhanush! They raise our expectations by telling us that it’s directed by The Russos and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the same team behind The Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame, only to then serve up one of the limpest, laziest action movies we’ve seen in recent years. First Cherry, and now this. It makes you wonder if Kevin Feige really was the brains behind why those four Marvel movies were as good as they were.

The Gray Man is now streaming on Netflix. Just skip it and rewatch John Wick instead.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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