I recently came across an article on how theater owners were lamenting the dearth of large tentpole films between the recently-released Bullet Train and WB’s Black Adam set to drop in October. This is hardly a pandemic-induced phenomenon as late-summer/early-fall is often considered a dumping ground for product Hollywood has less confidence in before the holiday movie/awards season starts. Nevertheless, as I sat viewing The Gray Man which streamed off of Netflix onto my 32-inch screen, I couldn’t help but wonder if this $200 million action epic could’ve given theater owners still recovering from government shutdowns one less weekend to fret over.
The film is certainly bursting with A-list cred from stars Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans to supporting players Ami De Armas and Billy Bob Thornton to even its directors in the form of MCU veterans, the Russo brothers. The scale of the story is plus-size as well, bouncing from Bangkok to Turkey to Prague and eventually the good ol’ US of A. All of this globe-trotting is of course accompanied by action set pieces causing enough property damage to level a decent-sized city center.
The story concerns the otherwise nameless CIA agent “Sierra Six” (Canada’s 2nd favorite Ryan), recruited straight from prison to do off-book jobs the rest of the CIA can’t handle. While executing a typical job in Bangkok, Six discovers he has just executed a fellow agent and he is likely next on the hit list, a plan by new agency head Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Paige) to wipe out the old regime.
Six also inherits evidence from the dead target of Denny’s high-level corruption activities, using the CIA as a personal hit-squad. With Six now having gone rogue, Denny recruits ruthless private-sector assassin Lloyd Hansen (Evans), a former CIA agent with a masters in torture. He plans to smoke Six out by kidnapping his old handler Fitzroy (Thornton) along with Fitroy’s niece Claire (Julia Butters). All of this will inevitably come to a head with a clash of the titans that will leave some bodies bruised and even more property destroyed.
I’ve written before of my general disappointment with many of Netflix’s original movies, Man from Toronto being a particular low point. So I was more than pleasantly surprised to be treated to a thrilling and engaging action spectacle buoyed by an effectively stoic Gosling and a scene-chewing Evans who is having the time of his life essentially playing the anti-Captain America. It’s all slick, easy to swallow, summer popcorn fun.
For me however, the film’s slickness exposes a nagging problem bedeviling many action spectacles of late which is egregious over-use of CGI. Everything from vehicle smash-ups to fires has a calculated-digital sheen to it that disengages the audience from the otherwise-thrilling onscreen mayhem (for a good contrast, seek out Michael Bay’s practical effect-heavy thrill ride Ambulance)
The Gray Man emerges as one of the finer efforts out of Netflix’s mad dash for premium original content thanks to a capable cast and slick direction by some of the finest A-list talent available. With all that screen muscle and plus size budget behind it. Would it be too much to ask for the world’s top streamer to grant this more than a one week limited theatrical release? Theater owners the world over would certainly appreciate it.
The Gray Man can now be streamed worldwide on Netflix