The last time Ryan Gosling was sent to Bangkok to assassinate a guy was about nine years ago while he was starring in Nicolas Winding Refn’s ailing art thriller Only God Forgives. I kinda loathed this movie, even though it had great red wallpaper and a hilariously snotty Kristin Scott Thomas, which helped the sinister vibes and extreme carnage go down. And of course Gosling had it, not for the first or last time as a handsome cipher with a knack for killing people. He gives us another one of those ciphers in the new Netflix spy thriller The Gray Man, which is the first film that makes me think about rewatching Only God Forgives, perhaps to offer or even seek my own forgiveness .
“The Gray Man” was directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, though it’s such a synthetic, soulless bundle of goods that it hardly feels like it’s been touched by human hands. Full of smirking one-liners, flashing international locations, and acts of unnecessarily awkward (if hinted rather than seen) violence, it’s basically Netflix Winding Refn; It’s global comic book nihilism for the whole streaming loving family. It has a number of supporting players from the Netflix rotation: Wagner Moura from Narcos, Regé-Jean Page from Bridgerton, Jessica Henwick from Iron Fist and the upcoming Glass Onion. It also has the gritty, heavily processed digital look of more than a few so-called Netflix Originals, which are flaunted with a blockbuster price tag but somehow still look untenably cheap on a proper cinema screen.
Still, The Gray Man will actually be in theaters before streaming on Netflix on July 22nd. Since the violence is generally shot bloodless and gritty, the film was even granted a PG-13 rating, which seems a bit feeble for a movie that has Billy Bob Thornton’s fingernails ripped out. I have no idea if that particular torture scene is from the source material, as I have not read The Gray Man or any other novels in the series by Mark Greaney, a protégé of the late Tom Clancy. I also don’t know whose idea it was to repeatedly put a screaming teenager with a heart condition in danger – a decision that might have felt more justifiable in a film that doesn’t expect us to giggle happily with each new outbreak of chaos .
It all begins with an unnamed man (Gosling) sitting quietly in a Florida jail in 2003, where he’s serving a lengthy sentence for murder. We’re informed that his crime was fully justified, which seems a bit of dodge, an assurance that we’re not expected to sympathize with a monster. No, this guy’s a trained hitman with a conscience (and a weakness for chewing gum – cute), which brings him to the attention of grey-haired CIA veteran Donald Fitzroy (Thornton), who offers him an early exit if he agrees to become a freelance assassin will. Cut to the present day, and Gosling is now Sierra Six, the premier member of a top-secret squad to whom the agency quietly outsources its really, really dirty jobs.
The latest of these jobs, Six finds himself in Bangkok, where he teams up with another agent, Dani (Ana de Armas, who’s basically expanding on her “No Time To Die” cameo) to take out a high-priority target. As with every mission, Six has no idea who he’s killing or why, but this time he’s learning way too much. Amidst glaring neon lights, exploding CGI fireworks and scores of screaming partygoers fleeing, the job is botched and Six, realizing he’s next on the CIA’s hit list, goes on the run. The action shifts to Baku, Berlin and a soon to be half-ruined Prague, with a brief flashback to Hong Kong, where we see Six befriend Claire (Julia Butters), the niece of his old mentor Fitzroy, the aforementioned teenager. When she’s kidnapped in the present, you know it’s only a matter of time before Six comes to her rescue, even if it means jumping out of an extremely fake-looking plane on fire.
The screenplay, written by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, throws plenty of spy thriller fillers onto the screen. A computer drive full of highly incriminating data is lost, historic European landmarks are treated like cannon fodder, and people growl things like, “If you like breathing, maybe you should fix that.” ever gave Thornton and a perfectly placed Alfre Woodard fare significantly better as Six’s guardian angel. Elsewhere, popular Indian actor and musician Dhanush gets to pull off some deadly gosling-impaling moves in one of the film’s better action showcases.
For better or worse, the most vivid presence is Chris Evans as Lloyd Hansen, a sociopathic CIA outcast – he’s the nail puller and The Teenage Danger – Called to Run Point. Sporting a muscle polo and a malicious grin, Evans is clearly enjoying his liberation from Captain America’s exploits. Possibly the Russo brothers, who previously directed Evans in films such as Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers: Endgame. As they’ve shown in the lighter moments of these Marvel films — and also in films like Welcome to Collinwood and shows like Arrested Development and Community — the Russos are naturally funny men, and in The Grey Man” they try unsuccessfully to create an airy comic tone with one hand and mutilate half of their ensemble with the other.
Gosling has a few funny moments of his own – his emotionlessness has always been an easy source of amusement – but for the most part he plays it cool, which is safe ground for him but worth watching enough for us too. He’s always been good at inhabiting emotional and psychological nulls, whether as a replicant in Blade Runner 2049 or as a man who’s scarcely more lifelike than his inflatable doll in Lars and the Real Girl. (At one point in “The Gray Man,” he’s referred to as “Ken Doll,” a blatant reference to his role in the upcoming “Barbie” movie.) Sometimes Gosling can use that reticence for a character like his emotionally tamed one Working -down Neil Armstrong in First Man (2018), which happened to be the last film he appeared in before this one. It’s good to have him back, although ‘good’ is far from the operative word in this case.
“The Gray Man”
Valuation: PG-13, for intense sequences with strong violence and strong language
Duration: 2 hours, 7 minutes
To play: Begins Friday in general release; available July 22 on Netflix
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-07-14/gray-man-review-netflix-gosling-evans ‘The Gray Man’ review: Ryan Gosling Netflix movie an empty game