The Gray Man is an expensive movie for Netflix, in the range of $200 million, and it’s reminiscent of 2019’s Six Underground, a $200 million collaboration between Netflix and Michael Bay where Bay had creative freedom to make the most bombastic, hyper masculine, and tedious movie of his career.

If you’re going to devote a fifth of a billion dollars for a Michael Bay-esque action movie, you might as well hire the real deal again. The Gray Man is a poorly-crafted action movie that’s wholly derivative and coasting off your memories of better spy thrillers and far better characters.

If you’re just looking for an action vehicle that provides copious explosions, The Gray Man will more than suffice as Ryan Gosling’s character “Six” is constantly targeted by anyone with a pulse. The film is oddly structured with flashbacks from usuallly reliable screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Avengers: Endgame).

The opening scene watching Billy Bob Thornton recruit Gosling’s character in jail seems completely superfluous as something that could have been explained in passing. There’s also a lengthy flashback in the middle of the movie that sets up Six’s allegiance to Thornton’s niece as he babysits and saves her from kidnappers.

There’s also a questionable series of shorter flashbacks of Six as a kid surviving his abusive father’s rigorous “training,” including a sequence where dear-old-dad burns the kid’s arm with a cigarette lighter. The audience doesn’t need to visualize these scenes when Six could have explained his traumatic upbringing with Gosling’s acting prowess.

The needless jumping around in time feels like The Gray Man attempting to be cleverer, or perhaps aping more of the genre expectations from an action movie of this size. The finale also lacks either the emotional catharsis or action climax that can serve as a satisfying conclusion. The last act is a compound assault set piece but it’s really just a series of interconnected gunfights and explosions. The mini-goals and engaging cause-effect escalation from before is absent.

If you’ve seen any espionage action movie of the last ten years, you’ve seen enough to recognize all the key pieces of The Gray Man. Solid performances from Ryan Gosling, Billy Bob Thorton, and Ana De Armis aren’t enough to save the horrid casting and acting from Chris Evans, Jessica Henwick, and Regé-Jean Page. Netflix would be better off investing in power producer and director Shawn Levy, as The Adam Project runs circles around The Gray Man.

Ultimately, there is no heart to this film and it’s overstuffed with half-rate quips, lackluster set pieces, and paper-thin characters.

Letter Grade: F

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a voting member of the Television Academy, Critics Choice Association, and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (the SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

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