Even Chris Evans’ Mustache Can’t Save The Gray Man From Cliches and Incoherence: Review

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The post Even Chris Evans’ Mustache Can’t Save The Gray Man From Cliches and Incoherence: Review appeared first on Consequence.

The Pitch: There’s something to be said for a nice old-fashioned action movie, with clear good guys and bad guys and a cute kid and no superpowers beyond the hero’s ability to make a weapon out of anything. Throw in a bunch of movie stars and some beautiful European locations, and by every metric the almighty algorithm might have at its disposal, a film like The Gray Man should be a slam-dunk fun time.

Which is why it’s such a bummer to say that Joe and Anthony Russo’s Netflix original film (its most expensive to date) simply falls flat, despite the best efforts of Ryan Gosling and the rest of the all-star cast. While The Gray Man does its best to hit all the benchmarks we look for in conspiracy thrillers like this, it perhaps does it too well, resulting in a final product that’s glib in its storytelling and not nearly as entertaining as it wants to be.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before: The Gray Man of the title is known primarily as “Six” (Ryan Gosling), who was recruited out of prison as a young man by CIA officer Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to work indefinitely doing the kind of dirty work the American government will always deny bankrolling. However (bet you can guess where this next sentence is going to go), when a job goes wrong and some dangerous information falls into his possession, Six becomes the target of his own government, with private contractor/sociopath Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) tasked with the job of tracking him down.

It’s a set-up we’ve definitely seen in the past, but while other films have found unique variations on such a premise, The Gray Man is a pretty unrelenting series of plot cliches throughout. Romance novels get a lot of crap for being predictable in their plotting, but you don’t read romance novels for the twists. You want twists, you watch a movie like this… but in the case of this specific movie, all that awaits you is disappointment. There’s an argument to be made that a movie as thoroughly predictable as this serves almost as comfort viewing. But that’s only if you don’t find it frustrating, to accurately predict what’s about to happen next several moments before it occurs.

Disassembled: The career of Joe and Anthony Russo has been a fascinating one to track over the years, as when the brothers were starting off as the Emmy-winning directors of 2000s-era comedies like Arrested Development, Happy Endings, and Community, you probably would never have guessed that they’d go onto direct one of the highest-grossing blockbusters of all time.

But it was actually in part their work on Community — perhaps specifically the two-part paintball extravaganza “For a Few Paintballs More” and “A Fistful of Paintballs” — which led them to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, making them two of the most bankable directors working today after successfully sticking the landing of an eleven-year cinematic arc with Avengers: Endgame.

The MCU action scenes directed by the Russos weren’t all universally successful, but you could always generally follow what was going on. Meanwhile, as theoretically exciting as The Gray Man‘s nine action set pieces might be, they aren’t much fun to watch, because of the effort involved in trying to understand what’s going on. It should not be such hard work to determine what is happening in a car chase or fist fight, and yet between the reliance on hyperkinetic drone shots and incoherent editing, it’s consistently difficult to get even a basic sense of the geography of each scene.

The Gray Man Review Netflix
The Gray Man Review Netflix

The Gray Man (Netflix)

The quality of the action is the film’s biggest flaw — perhaps its fatal flaw. However, most of the cast also struggles to shine. When Gosling has the opportunity, he’s capable of unleashing more charisma on screen than an army of Brad Pitt clones, but while we learn a fair amount about Six’s past due to flashbacks, and Gosling gets the occasional opportunity to deliver wisecracks, the character never evolves beyond a cipher with some MacGyver-level maneuvers.

Gosling’s performance here, in fact, stands in sharp comparison to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, in which Gosling also played a taciturn badass but far more effectively — perhaps because Drive commits to his reserved nature, while The Gray Man wants it both ways: the wisecracks and the stoicism.

As often happens with a stoic type, Six gets some human connections to show his softer side, specifically in the form of a young girl named Claire (Julia Butters, dialing up the charm that made her a standout in Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood to 11), and Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), a fellow agent who gets caught up in Six’s struggle.

De Armas is at a key turning point in her career after a few big hits (Knives Out, her short but very sweet appearance in No Time to Die), some misses (Deep Water, looking at you), and the highly anticipated Blonde on the horizon. But while The Gray Man is a miss creatively, it’s not at all her fault, as she has perhaps one of the most coherent characters and sparks nicely with Gosling.

Thornton and Alfre Woodard put in as much effort as their roles deserve, and younger talents like Jessica Henwick and Regé-Jean Page do what they can with painfully underwritten parts. The only real standout is Evans, who chews into the assignment of “exact opposite of Captain America” like it’s a perfect filet mignon. From the mustache to the fashion choices, Lloyd wears his psychopathic dirtbag tendencies on his very tight sleeves, and is a true pleasure to watch — you never quite forget that you’re watching Evans play the role, but that’s because you can tell how much he’s enjoying being so evil.

The Verdict: Without Evans, this review’s grade would be significantly lower. But even with Evans, The Gray Man simply falls short of expectations. This is exactly the kind of diversion that’s such a treat when done well, and to see it done shabbily is just a massive disappointment. With better editing and a story less strewn with cliches, this could have been such good summer fun. Instead, at best it feels destined to slip from our minds, like so many other Netflix original films.

Where to Watch: The Gray Man gets a limited theatrical release beginning Friday, July 15th, before arriving on Netflix July 22nd.

Trailer: 

Even Chris Evans’ Mustache Can’t Save The Gray Man From Cliches and Incoherence: Review
Liz Shannon Miller

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