Direction: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo | Scenario: Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, Stephen Mcfeely | cast: Ryan Gosling (Court Gentry), Chris Evans (Lloyd Hansen), Ana de Armas (Dani Miranda), Billy Bob Thornton (Donald Fitzroy), ao | Playing time: 127 minutes | Year: 2022
The color gray is associated with neutrality, reliability and elegance, among other things. The perfect middle ground between white and black. There are apparently fifty shades of it and it is also reminiscent of bad weather, old age, indifference and boredom. What meaning does the color get in this adaptation of Mark Greaney’s book of the same name? Does it refer to the familiar formula of the spy genre? Does it illustrate the Russo brothers’ indecision to give the film more direction? Or is it simply the color that remains when you mix action with comic notes and thriller elements?
Court Gentry (the gray man) is recruited by the CIA into the secret Sierra program, in which inmates are given a chance to spend their sentences outside the cell. Employed for the dirty jobs that the CIA likes to be plausible ignorance about, he operates in the gray area between moral and illegal. The gray man comes into possession of a USB stick that proves that his supervisor is using the program for his own corrupt purposes. In the ensuing manhunt, Court must fend off the formidable hitman Lloyd Hansen while rescuing his dear friend’s kidnapped daughter.
The fairly simple plot bears a lot of resemblance to that of the Jason Bourne films, albeit with a touch Suicide Squad† Threadstone has been exchanged for the Sierra program but the cat-and-mouse game with the CIA is similar. Replace the CIA with MI6 and the link to Bond is quickly established. Fortunately, the film itself makes a nod to this with the gray man’s operational name: Sierra 6, because 007 was already taken. With so many movies about the secret service, it might be ‘mission impossible’ that they don’t look alike.
To compensate, or perhaps disguise, the straightforward plot, the Russo brothers have focused on action. Lots of action. But here too the sources of inspiration shine through. The action is certainly Russo-worthy and at times original, but you can’t shake the thought while watching it; where have i seen this before? The action scenes are also much too long, and the ‘contribution’ of the character played by Evans does not make it any better.
Lloyd Hansen is introduced as a sociopath, and this seems to make the character act like an unscrupulous brute. He goes through everything and everyone like an elephant in a china shop, and in addition to being an enemy, he also kills the attention span of the viewer. His almost absurd appearance with mustache and loafers makes fun of the archetype, but also makes the character so elusive that he does not instill fear. The action that follows from his actions does not affect this and that is a shame because this concerns half the film.
The lack of a strong plot to justify all that action becomes noticeable at this point. Here and there an attempt is made to unload the action with a joke, but they shouldn’t have done this, because it sends the film away from its dark edge. The humor is also very lacking and this is surprising because Russo & Russo are certainly not unfamiliar with the genre.
Gosling’s shoulders are not strong enough to absorb the rattling boundary conditions. Although a gifted actor, he is simply not the right man for the role. Or the role isn’t right for him. The ‘grey’ in gray man refers to the area in which he operates, but it is more striking as the color of Gosling’s flat interpretation of the character. The other characters also remain relatively colorless, so in that respect the film was just as good The Gray Men can be called plural. Perhaps the film would have turned out better if Gosling and Evans had switched characters.
It is not purely negative what the clock strikes. The brothers manage to create a very ominous atmosphere. It all looks very slick and you can feel everything that it has been a big production. The highlight in this regard is a tram chase in the Czech Republic. However, the film cannot escape comparison with its inspirers and here it gives up. The Gray Man lacks Bond’s charisma, Bourne’s wit and Ethan Hunt’s recklessness. The Netflix sauce of the needlessly huge letters announcing new locations relegates the film to a budget store version of its predecessors.
The Russo brothers neglect to dose and focus entirely on the action element. They don’t seem to care that this is at the expense of plot twists and character development, but this is exactly what the film craves. The action would have been more meaningful with a more intriguing plot, and through the characters they could have given the film more direction, be it towards the thriller genre or possibly even a more comedic angle. Instead, they keep the neutral, unappealing gray middle, resulting in an action movie that doesn’t live up to its enormous potential. Nice for a rainy gray day.