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The Gray Man

Released 2022. Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

SAY HELLO TO THE GRAY MAN, THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK. He’s only just making his first appearance but you might find him somewhat familiar. That’s because he bears resemblance to several prominent men who have similar jobs, similar skills and are similarly white.

The Gray Man is a clandestine operative for the CIA, specialising in assassinations. His identity is so confidential he doesn’t have a name and only goes by his code name Sierra Six. He’s a little bit James Bond (travels around the world, always within sight of a female sidekick), a little bit Jason Bourne (on the run and being hunted by the CIA, dexterous in hand combat), a little bit Ethan Hunt (dives head-first into any death-defying stunt, no mission is impossible) and probably a few more action figures you’ve seen in other movies.

Mix a few of these common elements together and you get the plot of The Gray Man. Increasingly the action arena has become very crowded, with the promise of repeat appearances by an assortment of muscle mania and weapons galore including a long list of superheroes and men like John Wick. To stand apart from this noisy mob will require a bit of ingenuity from this new challenger.

On assignment in Bangkok, Six discovers his target is one of his own kind, an ex-agent who has an encrypted drive that contains damning evidence against his boss Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page). Six takes the drive and goes on the run as Carmichael hires hitman Lloyd Hansen to eliminate Six.

After this introductory, explosive confrontation that puts Six in CIA’s direct firing line, the movie is one action set-piece after another. The next one involves jumping out of a burning plane without a parachute after some close-range rapid gunfire. Not a moment too soon, Six finds himself trapped at the bottom of a well and McGyvered his way out by blowing it up. A violent shoot-out erupts on the streets of Prague, accompanied by a frenzied car chase next to a speeding runaway tram. Chaos breaks out outside a hospital with bullets zipping past ambulances. A hostage rescue at a Croatian castle lights up the night sky and finally, our two testosterone-fuelled raging bulls duke it out with their bare hands in a fountain inside a hedge maze. I’ve even deliberately left out some “smaller” fight scenes including a home invasion in Hong Kong, so yes, there’s a lot of action going on.

The movie looks every bit as polished as a $200 million budget should deliver. Slick and glossy photography all through, time and again we float along overhead shots zooming over landscape and racing vehicles.

Ryan Gosling steps into the action-man mould and ticks another box on an already impressive resumé. He can do serious drama and comedy equally well. He can headline a blockbuster or a small-budget indie. He can sing, he can dance, and now he’s a full-fledged lethal weapon with a license to kill.

Gosling plays Six as the straight-up hero with a conscience, out to save not just his own skin but the life of his mentor Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) and his niece Claire, both held captive as pawns. The custody of a girl thrust upon the assassin also echoes Jean Reno's classic role in Leon, bringing out the protective instincts in a trained killer for a child, a trait which is shown twice (for two different kids) in this movie.

As the antithesis to Six, the man sent to terminate Six and retrieve the drive is incapable of being quiet or modest. Chris Evans plays Lloyd Hansen as a gleeful psychopath almost to a parody level, in stark contrast to his most recognised role as the altruistic and righteous Captain America. Evans is so evidently lapping up the chance to play a crazy bad guy it’s a wonder he didn’t also twirl his moustache.

A small touch I find particularly of interest is a quick scene showing Six wolfing some scrap of food on a piece of newspaper as he escapes on a train, then he rests his head on the seat and closes his eyes. I don’t know about you but I’ve often asked the question if these action men ever stop to eat or sleep. Well, the filmmakers here have the sense of humour to answer that question and humanises a killing machine at the same time.

If you enjoy action movies The Gray Man will keep you happy. On a technical level the movie is well shot with some flashy visual effects if you can overlook some bad edits and the lack of real action choreography (quick cuts don’t do it). Mercifully, wisecracks are kept to a minimum and characters don’t pause during critical moments for unnecessary exchanges or exposition.

The Russo brothers are very used to staging blockbusters by now. They’ve had plenty of experience directing some mega, mega-dollar Marvel money-makers. The Gray Man doesn’t break new grounds and the character Six is not an exciting or intriguing action figure but for the magnetism of Ryan Gosling. Then again, people don’t go to see a movie like this for dialogue or even story as long as the action doesn’t stop. Judging by his maiden exploit, it's a safe bet the Gray Man will return for more macho mayhem.


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