/ 29 August 2022

One Movie, Two Takes: The Gray Man

Brooding: Ryan Gosling plays CIA agent Court Gentry in ‘The Gray Man’.

Netflix is churning out high-profile original films in order to assert itself as a major player among TV networks and film studios. They are a bit hit and miss, with some occupying the middle plane. While the streaming giant is notorious for spending exuberant amounts on productions, the reality is, investing lots of money in a film doesn’t guarantee that it will be good. 

I found The Gray Man nestled in the grey area. With a budget in excess of $200-million for production, as well as an impressively talented cast and seasoned directors (the Russo Brothers), it’s a bit of a letdown that the movie winds up being a mid-tier affair that fails to rise above mild action spectacle.

The film tells the story of CIA agent Court Gentry, code name “Sierra Six’’, played with brooding charm by Ryan Gosling. Sierra Six is on the run from sociopathic ex-CIA agent and mercenary Lloyd Hansen, played menacingly by Chris Evans. Lloyd is actually the hand of Sierra Six’s corrupt and insufferable superior Carmichael (played by Regé-Jean Page of Bridgerton fame). He wants Six eliminated because he’s got dirt on him and he knows too much. Hansen goes to extreme lengths to capture the elite CIA agent. 

What follows is a high-octane cat-and-mouse game underscored by explosive action sequences and impressive shoot-out scenes — and this is where the movie triumphs. The budget is put to good use to create a neon light-soaked sheen in locations in Bangkok, Hong Kong and European cities.

Unfortunately, all that frantic action and star power is not enough to distract from the vapid story. It seems impossible for scriptwriters to come up with original, innovative plots devoid of clichés and tropes we’ve all seen before. If you’ve seen the John Wick films, the Bourne series, and pretty much every spy thriller, you’ve basically seen The Gray Man. 

The saving grace is perhaps Billy Bob Thornton and Alfre Woodard’s characters, elder agents Donald Fitzroy and Margaret Cahill. They are in the winters of their careers and trying to survive with some dignity intact as the world passes them by and a new dawn is ushered in by less-than-virtuous custodians.

One can appreciate The Gray Man as a well-made, endearing homage to the blockbuster thrillers of yesteryear, with top-notch action, which we grew up watching. Packaged in a glittering modern world, it makes for an entertaining watch. But if you scratch the surface for a thriller with heart and purpose, given the amount of money put into it and the sheer talent of its leads, I’m afraid you might  be slightly underwhelmed. — Sekese Rasephei

A hectic weekend work schedule means Mondays are typically reserved for the couch and shameless channel surfing. Given that escape is preferred, I’m willing to follow wherever Netflix’s algorithmic recommendations take me. So, I had the urge to settle in when the action-packed trailer for The Gray Man shone from the screen. After two hours the rating lands on an average three stars.

The CIA’s top asset Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) is on the run from sadistic mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) after discovering his employer’s corrupt activities. He is also being sought internationally by assassins. 

The scene where the supposedly premium hitmen show up in their various locations is similar to John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. Ryan Gosling’s acting versatility is questionable, though. However, the role of Sierra Six fits with his one-dimensional acting style like a revolver in a holster. The predictable nature of this movie made the effort at a plot twist somewhat underwhelming.

Evocative of the Bourne and Hitman franchises, the movie takes us along the well-worn path of yet another disillusioned CIA agent defending himself from tainted agency action while dealing with personal trauma. Despite its feeble premise, it does shine a torch on childhood trauma and mental health issues. 

What saves the film from dullness is Ana de Armas, who plays CIA agent Dani Miranda. Her alluring poise and kick-ass Cuban-Spanish accent elevate the film.

The kaleidoscope of colour during the fight scenes stands out, despite it feeling like an attempt to cover up stunt coordination issues. This prismatic feature is a brilliant addition that gives a uniqueness to the overall cinematic tone of the movie. 

Being the first film in a franchise based on Mark Greaney’s Gray Man novels, word on the stream-vine is that there is already a sequel planned. Sequels! Those silly, slippery slopes notorious for failing to live up to their predecessors could perhaps be a walk in the park for Marvel Cinematic Universe directors, Anthony and Joseph Russo.

Filled with all the ingredients of an action thriller — car chases, explosions, misguided bravado and a war room with multiple screens — one can appreciate the film’s entertainment value and contribution to its genre, despite its lack of originality. Beyond the flirtation with strong themes of morality, childhood trauma and unwavering protection of loved ones, The Gray Man is certainly not the stuff for grey matter stimulation. Perhaps the lesson is to not always trust algorithms. — Rolland Simpi Motaung