“The Gray Man” Review: Gosling and Evans Elevate Expensive Netflix Movie

This by-the-book movie succeeds thanks to the inherent charm of its two leading men

The Gray Man, the new globe-trotting action movie from brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, is Netflix’s most expensive movie ever— as far as we know, anyway. The question isn’t whether the $200 million-plus tab is worth it for the financially embattled streamer, it’s whether you, the viewer, are entertained enough to remain subscribed for another month, quarter, or year — however long it takes before the inevitable sequel drops.

To that end, The Gray Man measures up well against its streaming comps. It’s a far grittier film than Netflix’s prior star-studded, mega-budget blockbuster, Red Notice, and a far better-acted movie than, say, 6 Underground. Indeed, this film succeeds to the extent that it does thanks to the inherent charm of its two leading men—Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans.

Gosling plays the title character, a mysterious man named Courtland Gentry who is thrown in jail after committing a justifiable murder and left to rot until the CIA (in the form of Billy Bob Thornton) rescues him from a life behind bars once he agrees to become their weapon. He takes on the name of Six, and he’s part of an elite program known as Sierra whose spies don’t formally exist. Their files are literally empty. They are “gray men,” so to speak.

The plot kicks in when the agency taps Six for a high-profile hit. Now, Six always gets his man, but the identity of this target surprises him, as does a parting gift he leaves his killer — a Mcguffin straight out of a Tom Clancy book or Mission: Impossible film. That one final gesture, and Six’s refusal to disclose it, sets off a chain reaction that sends him on the run and on a mission to rescue his handler’s niece (Julia Butters). They have a tight bond, which flashbacks clarify later. 

With Six in the wind, enter Lloyd Hansen (Evans), one of the government’s go-to consultants, for obvious reasons — he’s willing to do what it cannot, i.e. torture. Whether it’s jumper cables or pliers, the snazzy sadist knows how to extract information, and seems to relish the opportunity. Hansen and his endless pool of goons travel the world hunting Six and the script’s Mcguffin as the girl is held hostage.

That’s pretty much it. Kind of straightforward for a spy movie, huh?

OK, so the script, credited to Joe Russo and go-to Marvel scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, won’t win any awards. The Russos still struggle with striking the right balance between story and spectacle. But on the latter, there’s no question that these men know how to stage a kinetic action sequence. They put Gosling through the wringer in this one; a fight scene on a deteriorating plane is particularly memorable. But no matter how many frequent flier miles this movie racks up while jet-setting from one exotic location to the next, the laziness of this screenplay is remarkable. 

The truth is that there are a lot of movies like The Gray Man, but what elevates this particular film is the A-list cast. Gosling thrives in these kinds of protector roles (recall Drive) and he does some hardcore damage in this one;  he can also deliver a well-timed quip when needed. And yet, it’s Evans who is the real reason to watch The Gray Man. The now-mustachioed actor steals the movie with his arch delivery, providing a colorful alternative to Gosling’s scowling man of few words.

Having never watched Bridgerton, this was my first exposure to Rege-Jean Page outside his hosting of SNL and I liked him in this slippery role of authority—even if it feels like it was written for an actor 20 years his senior. Expect to see more of him in any sequels that are greenlit, since Netflix wouldn’t make a big bet like this unless they think it’s a franchise.

Butters (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) acquits herself well in a small but key role. Unfortunately, Ana de Armas is given little to do besides appearing from out of nowhere to save Six, so she’s rather wasted. The same goes for Jessica Henwick, whose CIA character feels underwritten.

The Gray Man may not be a new action classic, or even what most would consider a good movie, but it’s good enough, and almost certainly better than I’ve likely made it sound. This story is as generic as it gets, with shockingly low stakes for this kind of international epic, but overall, it delivers exactly what it promised. It certainly can’t be compared to great action movies, like Die Hard or Speed, but on Netflix, The Gray Man will likely stand out.

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