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