Updated: Aug 11, 2022
Joe and Anthony Russo have become household names over the last decade with their directing talents being put to good use with MCU films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. And since parting ways with Marvel Studios, they have been consistently putting out more original content that appeals to other parts of the action genre, partiuclarly with writing and producing some more lesser known action flicks like 21 Bridges and Extraction. Their latest foray into original films has the Russo Brothers back in the director’s chair to bring to life a spy thriller called The Gray Man, starring Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, and Chris Evans.
Sierra Six (played by Ryan Gosling) is a CIA assassin assigned to kill a target that holds agency secrets. However, the target Six was sent to assassinate was one of their own, looking to blow the whistle on Six’s boss, Carmichael (played by Rege-Jean Page), on his corrupt activities. Now with the information from a dead whistleblower, Six has become the next target of Carmichael, who sends sociopathic private contractor Lloyd Hansen (played by Chris Evans) to kill Six. With the help of CIA operative Dani Miranda (played by Ana de Armas), they must outmaneuver Hansen in order to get the information into the public eye.
Alright, let’s get this out of the way first…the story. It is very derivative of previously-told spy stories. All the way down to many of the characters, such as the corrupt CIA desk jockey, the obviously insane main villain, and the morally ambiguous, likable and extremely handsome protagonist. It does begin to weigh down the rest of the film underneath the ambitions it tries to reach, especially with how many characters they try to squeeze in. While you are able to understand how the story goes from beginning to end, the journey to the end is an inconsistent roller coaster, both with its tone and pacing.
Now that the bad is out of the way, let’s get onto the performances. Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas as Sierra Six and Miranda respectively bring their A-game to what is an uninspired spy thriller. Their chemistry is just as electric as it was in Blade Runner 2049, and their banter is great. Although both were completely outshone by Chris Evans as Lloyd Hansen. Evans chews up the scenery maliciously with his performance, as he plays the sociopath to over-the-top perfection. It is clear he is having a lot of fun as the villain and his chemistry with Gosling’s Six is more palpable than anything else in the film. Just with one phone call you could see sparks flying. But Evans as Hansen is beyond proof that we need more of his work as an antagonist.
Even though the story somewhat held the film back a bit, the action sequences are visually unique and entertaining. They really started off with a bang with Six’s introductory mission against Sierra Four (played by Callan Mulvey) as they use the environment of New Years Eve fireworks and quick hand to hand combat to make for an intense first impression. But the best sequence has to be the Prague tram chase and the castle siege climax. Both of which use a rather potent mixture of stunt work and excellent cinematography to make for some unforgettable action sequences. Plus, the emotion that went into the entertaining climax really helped make the film’s criticisms easier to digest.
Even though The Gray Man suffers from spy cliches, a predictable and sometimes incoherent story and some tonal and pacing issues, it nonetheless managed to do what it was designed to do: entertain. The action sequences alone are proof of that, and the solid work from both Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas don’t hurt either. But it is Chris Evans as Lloyd freaking Hansen that is what truly saves this movie. He is delightfully hateable and utterly charismatic, he just steals each scene he’s in. Evans as the villain and great set pieces make for a fun and entertaining watch, even if the rest of the film is somewhat hard to follow. Hopefully they find a way to bring back Evans for the sequel!