The Gray Man, adapted from the 2009 novel of the same name, pits CIA Operative and assassin Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) against his sadistic former colleague, Lloyd (Chris Evans) in a high octane, spy vs spy adrenaline dump that spans the globe. Six is recruited out of prison; his sentence is over turned and he can be a free man (well, sort of). All he has to do is whatever the CIA tells him. But when one mission goes awry and Six finds himself in possession of a mysterious file that could unveil some very dark and damning secrets, he’s hunted down by the very people who employed him.
If that sounds like a typical, by the numbers premise for an espionage thriller, that’s because it is. The Gray Man is many, many things, but original, is not one of them. The entirety of its plot revolves around its McGuffin. A McGuffin is a device that drives the story. It’s necessary to propel the character’s motivations and allow the story to unfold, but on its own is seemingly insignificant. Here, as in most spy thrillers, the McGuffin is that drive full of secrets.
The Russo Brothers are best known for their work in the MCU. A poll of any number of Marvel fans will likely put their four directorial efforts within the shared universe at the top of the ranking. However, it’s their work outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has struggled to achieve that same level of awe inspiring spectacle. The Russo’s have a very specific style of action. It’s frenetic, fast paced and involves significant stunt work. Perhaps that level of over the top mayhem and destruction just better lends itself to the world super powered beings.
The strongest thing that The Gray Man has going for it, is its all star cast. Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans and Billie Bob Thornton light up the screen brighter than any of the on screen explosives. But even Gosling’s charm can’t elevate this film to the heights it aspires to be. The decisions and actions of its characters are often non sensical, the CGI is often questionable and the computer drive full of secrets is a trite and overused McGuffin within the genre. In the end, The Gray Man feels like that guy at the party who won’t stop talking, but doesn’t really have anything to say. He’s just drunk.
The Gray Man delivers on its promise of exhilaration, pulse pounding punches and death defying stunts, but those moments only act as the outer shell struggling to keep the movie intact. Inside, The Gray Man is a hollow vessel, void of any real substance or originality. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t massively impressed by the perfectly manicured mustache Chris Evan’s sports throughout the film. If only the rest of the movie was as well polished and trimmed as that. 6/10