The Gray Man (Review): Trying Too Hard to Be Cool

I was excited for this one. But The Gray Man fails to live up to its potential. It’s not all bad though. Read on for more of my thoughts…

Agent Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) possesses information which incriminates his bosses. Six’s agency declares him a liability and attempts to murder him, forcing Six to go on the run. His allies are few and his resources fewer. And his enemies aim to make his friends collateral damage if he doesn’t surrender.

Let’s get this overwith: The Gray Man didn’t do much for me. It neither bored nor entertained. I practically watched TGM on autopilot, and failed to emotionally engage.

At least The Gray Man is paced well enough that my experience went quickly. No scenes dragged. And it didn’t overstay its welcome.

The Gray Man features an incredible ensemble cast! That may sound good on paper, but I tend to see such casts as a red flag. I believe executives populate the screen with big names when they’re unconfident in their film’s appeal. The ploy usually works, to their credit. It got me to watch this thing, afterall.

But it’s a cheap trick which bothers me every time I fall for it! I feel like an idiot consumer, ’cause I should know better by now… Guess that’s what I get for being too optimistic about my entertainment’s quality.

Gosling is in good form as Sierra Six (acting-wise and physically). He played to his usual type: an aloof and eccentric loner who doesn’t easily connect with others. So I can’t say he did anything here which surprised me. He’s entertaining in the role though– especially if you’ve liked Gosling’s past characters in this mold.

Six didn’t face enough hardships for my liking. He was presented as an isolated person, yet possessed powerful allies who did a lot of his work for him. I never felt like he’d fail to accomplish his goals– only that he may not survive to see his success.

That said: I barely experienced tension over Six’s survivability. Because combat was ridiculously easy for him! Nothing phased Six, and he maintained near-super-human levels of endurance.

I like that that he often received physical beatings throughout the film. But his injuries never seemed to stack. He always appeared to be in good condition, even though he wouldn’t have had time to heal between physical traumas.

Ana De Armas did the best she could with her material. She was charming as ever in her role, but felt shoe-horned into the plot. The Gray Man would have played out almost identically without Dani Miranda (De Armas’ character).

I’ve got to briefly talk about the character Claire Fitzroy (Julia Butters). Butters played the role well, and Claire’s part was… fine, if not cliche. But I’ve got to file a formal complaint with Hollywood over characters like this: cut it out with precocious, smart-ass kids in movies! Are kids actually like this nowadays, or is this just how writers think they are? Is it supposed to be more palatable than watching more “average” children? I don’t care. I find this trope annoying in most contexts.

Chris Evans is the stand-out among a talented bunch. I love that he’s played more villains since concluding his tenure as Captain America. Evans has great range as an actor. And he’s clearly having fun with the part! I will support Evans as he expands his portfolio with ever-more diverse roles.

Chris Evans looking badass in The Gray Man

Frankly, Evans’ performance may be the only noteworthy element in The Gray Man. His villain is one of the few aspects of this film which I felt was decently original. I’ve seen everything else a million times over in better movies.

The Gray Man featured some unexpected twists, but none which floored me. Its writing was occasionally clever, but rarely. It was often predictable with lots of genre clich├ęs.

SIDE NOTE: I thought the premise was awesome at first (former criminal turned into expendable CIA agent)… until I realized it was a more boring Suicide Squad.

It aggravated me that we never even saw the supposed big bad! They kept his presence hidden for sequel bait. But the tease was terrible because the badguy failed to show up for so much as a cameo! He did literally nothing except exist off-screen to oversee shady activities of which we never learn.

My lack of emotional engagement in The Gray Man stems from its robotic characters. They clearly feel, but present a mere sliver of humanity amidst the brutality of their lives. These are stone-cold killers. They’re forced hide their feelings by necessity. But their nonchalant attitudes to severe danger make it hard to care for them. There’s nobody in this film with whom the audience can relate. Lack of relatability isn’t an inherently bad thing. It just didn’t resonate with me in this instance.

Was the action good at least? I found the violent bits a let-down. Decent choreography was consistently obscured by quick-cuts and poor sense of geography. Multiple sequences have a myriad of moving pieces which got hard to follow. And, to tie in my above point, I didn’t care enough about the characters to concern myself over potential consequences of the carnage.

The CGI was also poor and distracting. I’ve heard this film had a $200,000,000 budget, but I don’t know where that money went– ’cause it sure wasn’t to the effects. Maybe the cast ate up the money?

One stray note on the filmmaking: the Russo brothers employed liberal use of tracking shots. The effect was cool at first, but ultimately overused.

I’m disappointed in the Russo’s direction for this film. I’ve seen them pull off far more impressive films in the past! They somehow managed to cohesively balance the action and drama of Civil War, Infinity War and Endgame with WAY more characters than they had to work with here. Yet somehow The Gray Man is more of a mess than any of those previous films. I don’t know what happened to get these results…

The Gray Man didn’t suck and it wasn’t good either. It was just… OK. I can’t recommend it though.

The Gray Man might kill the time If You’re Bored.

What’s your favourite action film of the year so far? What did you think of The Gray Man? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.

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Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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