The Russo Brothers return with a star-studded action thriller in Netflix’s The Gray Man that’s great where the heart is concerned but nothing special overall. This critique isn’t to say that the film isn’t impressive or that the performances aren’t fantastic, but the plot doesn’t do much when the film drags on, ultimately amounting to nothing more than a sleek film that’s still fun to look at throughout.
As one of the most expensive productions for the streaming network, it’s evident how much work went into it. It’s the kind of film that deserves to be seen on the big screen solely for how riveting the majority of the cinematography is. And it’s clear that the cast had a blast filming, making it much more engaging as you watch the story unfold. Still, while a primarily fun action thriller, the best thing Netflix’s The Gray Man does is dipping its toes into one of the best narrative trends, which relies on a broken man protecting a kid with everything in them.
Obi-Wan Kenobi does it with Little Leia, The Mandalorian handles it brilliantly with Din and Grogu, The Witcher Season 2 goes all in, and we could even look into Chris Evans‘ The Gifted, among many other films and TV series. In this narrative, Ryan Gosling’s Six and Julia Butters’ Claire Fitzroy take the crown, as her kidnapping and Regé-Jean Page’s Denny Carmichael’s decisions kick the story into motion.
This narrative does something advantageous by putting heart entirely on display to showcase that good men will consistently go out of their way to do everything they can to protect the kid in need. And, most of the time, if the kid isn’t afraid to call them out on their nonsense, which Claire isn’t, it makes it all the more glorious. Such arcs add layers to characters in such a way that quick, stylistic dialogue often leaves out, bringing much more depth to their rough edges. Whether it was their initial dry meeting or how she pled for him to come with her, their scenes left me, and I imagine many other viewers wrecked.
Gosling’s range continues to be one we should never discredit as every performance he brings something to our differs from previous roles. He can be a charming-know-it-all in one film, a romance king the next, a ruthless spy, and even a Ken-doll. And roles like Six suit Gosling perfectly well. In the same way, Ana de Armas proves that there’s nothing she can’t do, reminding us all why she was the standout performer full of veteran faces in Knives Out. As Dani Miranda, Armas balances dry wit, a subtle sense of innocence, and unstoppable strength. And as critical players on the same side of the coin, Armas and Gosling were a thrill to watch.
And then, of course, there’s Chris Evans, whose role in Netflix’s The Gray Man is the polar opposite of when he last worked with the Russo Brothers. Lloyd Hansen is no Captain America, which is a great thing because, much like Gosling’s abilities as an actor, it’s proof that Evans knows how to embody roles brilliantly. Evans is deliciously sinister as Lloyd, breaking out some of the most hilariously off-beat lines where need be and providing necessary comic relief in the middle of tense moments. We aren’t going into one film expecting to see remnants of another, and the best part is, there’s no overacting happening here to escape a reputation.
Dhanush stands out remarkably as Avik San, and Page’s Carmichael is unbearable throughout, allowing both actors to bring in the necessary chops for stellar characterization. And Jessica Henwick holds her own tremendously, actually being the one character I’d personally take a spin-off or prequel film for.
Netflix’s The Gray Man is fun, engaging, and a film worth watching, whether the genre is your cup of tea or not. While it’s not the most extraordinary action film by any means, the exceptional cast is worth every penny.
Netflix’s The Gray Man is now streaming worldwide.