You are currently viewing At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Gray Man “2022”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Gray Man “2022”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Action-Thriller/Stars: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, Billy Bob Thornton, Callan Mulvey, Eme Ikwuakor, Robert Kazinsky, DeObia Oparei, Shea Whigham/Runtime: 129 minutes

So I would like to start this review off by asking you dear reader a totally random question that I promise is relevant: what exactly would cause a tram conductor in the country of Prague to bring the tram that they are in charge of to a complete stop? The reason I bring this up dear reader is because in the new slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, The Gray Man from Super Russo Bros ehhh The Russo Brothers, there is a sequence involving such a trolley as it makes its way to a locale where a group of guys are just raining bullets down on a guy who is literally handcuffed to a bench. Yet it isn’t long before the guy is free and on top of the trolley with the bad guys in pursuit. As a result, bullets soar, glass shatters, people on the street panic, more bad guys in vehicles show up in the most frantic and frenzied Hell’s Angels parody I’ve ever seen, and then a sports car with an ally of the guy on the top of that streetcar shows up to help him out. Yet in all of this what is the streetcar doing? It’s just moving along like there is absolutely nothing going wrong in the outside world at all. Indeed if there is ever a moment where that streetcar even decides to slow things down just a tad it’s only when it’s forced to come to a complete stop due to all the damage it has managed to accrue. Now the reason I bring this up is because for 2 hours and 9 mins, this movie is the cinematic equivalent to that streetcar. By that I mean here is a movie that, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going from one insane action beat to another whilst completely running over both any pitfalls in the narrative as well as the chance to really flesh out its characters in any meaningful way due to having only a singular goal in mind and that is to try its absolute hardest to keep you engaged and entertained on the most gonzo and over the top level possible. An effort that I can say it manages to accomplish though not without quite a few hiccups in the road. As a result, I don’t know if I can really call this slice of cinema one that fits a label of “good” or “bad”, but I do know one thing: this movie was most certainly never one that put me to sleep if that says anything. Indeed yes this slice of cinema has its fair share of problems, but at least it does have some things going for it. Namely that at least it’s somewhat aware of how ridiculous it is, the two leads, especially Chris Evans, manage to do fairly good in their respective performances, and as long as the action beats stay fairly grounded like it moments involving fisticuffs between the various performers it’s actually riveting to watch. Unfortunately when you give a filmmaker a 200 million dollar budget the tendency tends to be to push it as far as they can and that is definitely the case here too as well. Suffice it to say that it is that choice that ultimately winds up making what could have been a genuinely great film into one that is very much the definition of a cinematic mixed bag.

The plot is as follows: The Gray Man tells us the story of a guy going by the code name of Sierra Six. Six, we quickly learn, is a part of an elite undercover squad in the CIA that is sort of like the Dirty Dozen in that it is a group of ex-criminals who have been brought in to assist the agency in taking part in hits that even the regular agency cannot officially sanction. From there the film moves ahead to the present day and we see that our hero is now under the marching orders of a man by the name of Denny Carmichael and in Bangkok to “take care of” a person who has allegedly been making a fair living off of government secrets. Yet despite the mission starting off without a hitch to be found, it isn’t long before things (of course) get complicated. An amount of complicated incidentally that soon causes our hero to question and shortly thereafter abandon his primary mission directive and go off-grid thus causing his new team lead to have to bring into the fold a downright insane homicidal maniac of a former agent turned mercenary available to anyone and everyone with an axe to grind named Lloyd Hansen to hunt him down and wipe him off the face of the Earth by any means necessary. As a result, we see our boy wonder, with the initially reluctant aid of a CIA agent he was partnered up with in Bangkok by the name of Dani Miranda, takes off in an attempt to not only figure out why he is being hunted, but also in order to survive all the killers Hansen has been able to bring onboard to help him in his ruthlessly relentless pursuit of our hero. Suffice it to say that our hero might be one of the best to do what he does, but can he do it well enough to emerge from this mess in one piece to say nothing of being able to rescue his mentor, and former team head, Donald Fitzroy’s niece Claire at the same time? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself….

Now I think it should just be said before I go any further in this section dear reader: this slice of cinema is kind of a mess from a behind the camera point of view respectively. For starters I’m just going to be honest: this slice of cinema is one that most assuredly feels rushed with a capital R, U, S, H, E, and you get the point. I mean if this film if had been permitted to have a runtime of at least 2 and a half hours then I definitely feel that would have given the creative team behind the camera more of an opportunity to actually flesh out the world of the film as well as make the action beats a lot more coherent and easier to follow among other things. Unfortunately by saddling this slice of cinema with a 129 minute runtime and at least 15 minutes of that are end credits you really make it difficult to make a coherent film and instead this slice of cinema is one that is just content with zipping around like an annoying fly that has made its way into your house. It’s also worth pointing out that this zipping around also affects the characters as well. By that I mean in a longer movie like Skyfall the main cast of characters are actually able to be given enough in terms of dimension that they don’t feel like “sidekick”, “bad guy”, “good guy”, or simplistic labels, but instead like actual people. In this film however, the characters aside from our two leads are so barely drawn out that it really does feel like the writer just saw a bunch of spy movies, came up with a list of support characters that are common to this genre, and then used the Russo Brothers’ names to draw in a cast of clearly talented people to play the parts. This is also a problem that is very much evident with this slice of cinema’s script since it honestly feels less like a well-written script from a professional scribe and more like someone just took some serious inspiration from Cliff’s Notes and a whole lot of other films like this, jotted down key events that happen in a lot of them, put them in some kind of sequential order, filled in characters’ names and places like it was a game of Mad Libs, turned it in, the studio said “Brilliant!”, and then gave them pretty much free reign to go make this movie (or something like that). Now lest you think I’m going to be all Calamity Mary in this section, I will say one nice thing about the work done behind the camera. That being that when there are action beats involving two or more people engaging in physical confrontations with one another it is staged and filmed very well. Indeed this is something that was very much a part of what made the Russo Bros.’ work on the 2nd and 3rd Captain America score as well as it did for me and, other issues I have aside, I am genuinely glad to see that they haven’t lost their touch in giving us some truly gritty and riveting hand to hand action beats in this.

Thankfully, for all the issues that this slice of cinema may (and does) possess I can safely say that the performances by the two leads in this are by no means items that you can add to that list. Indeed I have always enjoyed Ryan Gosling as an actor and in this, his first movie in 4 years following his fantastic turn as Neil Armstrong in 2018’s underrated gem First Man, he’s actually not that bad. Not just in terms of the action beats where Gosling manages to give his absolute best in terms of selling the moments where he is both kicking bad guy butt as well as at times having his butt handed to him, but also in making this character feel like an actual person rather than an archetype of sorts. Yes there is a bit of the snarky sense of humor that Gosling utilized so well in 2016’s The Nice Guys, but there is also the stoic demeanor of K from 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 as well and Gosling manages to combine as well as utilize both attributes to help him bring to life a character that, thanks to Gosling’s efforts, manages to be a fairly well done mix of James Bond, Jason Bourne, and John Wick (minus the whole dog he loves and cherishes more than anything being killed bit) respectively. Suffice it to say that it is a pretty good lead performance and I really do hope we as movie goers get to see Gosling do another role like it albeit in a much better slice of cinema because he definitely has the chops for it. Of course as we all know from past cloak and dagger slices of spy cinema, the most interesting character in these movies is always the villain of the piece. Sure we remember 007, but we also definitely remember such antagonists of his as Goldfinger and his way with painting women, Oddjob with his really sharp (pun intended) bowler hat, Le Chiffre and his poker skills, Raoul Silva and literally everything about him, Dr. No and his fondness for island bases, and of course the granddaddy of them all Ernst Stavro Blofeld (and his cat) to name but a few examples. Suffice it to say that this is most definitely the case here as The Gray Man manages to get us another really good antagonist role out of Chris Evans as Lloyd Hansen. Indeed make no mistake dear reader: this is not a character in the vein of Ransom Drysdale from 2019’s Knives Out and I am thankful for Evans mixing things up a bit. I say that because whereas Ransom was just a spoiled rich kid who does what he does when he feels the game is up and he’s about to have to actually make his own way in the world, the character of Lloyd is one that is just a pure bullying psychopath, is very much aware that he is one and who loves it plain and simple. Not only that, but Evans does a wonderful job of making this character a literal moustache-twirling villain by giving this character one of the sleaziest bits of upper lip facial hair I have seen on an antagonist in some time whilst also instilling in him a dementedly delightful cheerfulness that is just downright hilarious to behold as he also proceeds to straight up demean literally everyone he comes in contact with. Indeed as good as Gosling is in the titular role, I can safely say that this slice of cinema belongs to Evans hook, line, and sinker and I really hope we get to see more villain roles out of him because as good as he may or may not have been as a certain MCU hero for a while there from 2011-2019 (jury’s still out on that one), he’s just as good if not better when given a chance to cut loose and let his antagonist flag fly.

Unfortunately as for the rest of the cast that has been assembled for this slice of cloak and dagger spy cinema we see that they don’t fare nearly as well as either Gosling or (especially) Evans. Yet this isn’t because they aren’t a talented bunch. Far from it actually though I feel that you might have suspected that given the cast list at the beginning of this review. Rather, it’s because they aren’t given nearly as much material to work with in terms of fleshing out their respective characters as the two leads. As a result, the support cast finds themselves settling into certain archetypes that you should be able to (fairly easily) predict just how their arcs in this slice of cinema are most likely going to play out. This includes the grizzled old mentor figures played (albeit fairly well) by both Billy Bob Thornton and Alfre Woodard (though the former gets significantly more screen time in this than the latter), the reluctant female partner to the hero who saves his butt at least once portrayed by the always delightful Ana de Armas, the shady and slimy head guy pulling all the strings and who has no qualms about things becoming extremely messy in terms of collateral damage who here is played fairly well by Regé-Jean Page, and even the reluctant person inside the agency who is blackballed into trying to fix this mess even though they know things will only get worse with how their supervisor is trying to handle things as portrayed by the wonderful (albeit underutilized) Jessica Henwick from Iron Fist and The Matrix: Resurrections to name but a few examples. Suffice it to say that yes the collection of support talent that has been brought in is fairly impressive, but when comparing their work in this to the work done by Gosling and Evans, it really does seem like more emphasis was unfortunately placed on the characters played by the latter two rather than making sure everyone involved was given enough in terms of genuine characterization and as such the film does suffer to an extent because of it.

All in all and at the end of the day I can’t really lie to you dear reader: Netflix needs to seriously chill to say nothing of maybe take a long moment to really ponder what they’re about to do when it comes to the amount of money that they are willing to throw at a lot of the “bigger releases” they have been making as of late. I mean I’m sorry, but 200 million dollars (yes you read that right dear reader. Believe me I too had a hard time believing it myself) is way too much for a slice of cinema like this one. On top of that, and adding insult to injury is the fact that nowhere does that much money really make itself apparent at any point in time during this slice of cinema’s runtime. I mean if Netflix had chosen to just make this a 50 million dollar spy thriller and, on top of that, actually taken the time to draw things out and keep it clear as to what was going on rather than operate at such a frantic pace that you won’t be surprised if you have no idea what in the world is going on to say nothing of flesh out the support cast of characters on the level of the two leads in this then you might have a fairly riveting slice of cinema. As it is though, I thought this slice of cinema was one that at the end of the day is merely good and nothing more. Indeed the two leads are good (with Evans giving us one of the more unapologetically gleeful maniacs I’ve seen in a slice of cinema this year), the talented support cast does alright with what little they are given, and the work behind the camera is by no means a complete train wreck. It’s just a shame because honestly, given the caliber of the talent both behind and in front of the camera, this really should have been a lot better than what it ultimately turns out to be. Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Gray Man “2022” a solid 3 out of 5.

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