The Gray Man

The Gray Man is first and foremost, a classic spy movie. The draw of its elaborate action scenes, the size of its cast, and the charisma of its lead performances keep it afloat in the pool of familiarity it finds itself mired in.

Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) is a CIA operative who carries out killings of whoever they desire as part of a deal he made decades ago to dodge prison time. On a job in Bangkok, as he dies, his target reveals the unexpected kinship he holds with Court and gives him a drive containing damning information about the people he works for. These two discoveries force him to drop everything and go on the run with the intel in tow. Back at the CIA, his boss (Regé-Jean Page) is furious about the intel leak and Court’s betrayal. In response, he calls in a former operative named Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans). Rejected by the CIA for his violent, psychotic methods and his lack of concern to amend them, Lloyd has no qualms about eliminating whoever stands between him and his mission’s objective. And so, a cat-and-mouse chase begins between Court Hansen, a battle of wits and ability that wraps around the entire globe.

The Gray Man has a lot orbiting Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling, but they are absolutely the reasons to see this movie. Ryan Gosling tones Court down, you really believe he was nurtured into his line of work, not born into it. Gosling is eternally tired in the role, every obstacle, every adversary gets the same tossed-off “Are we really doing this?” look from Gosling. Yet there’s also an eternal spark, his wit as if the opportunity to fire off a quip is what keeps him going through stab wounds and raining gunfire. It brings something new to this spy archetype, the sense this is just a particularly tough day on the job for Court and Gosling communicates that really well. 

Every performance has its equal opposite reaction and the yin to Gosling’s yang is Chris Evans as Lloyd Hansen. Where Gosling is just barely limping his way from explosion to explosion, Evans is confidently striding after him. Evans walks into this movie with a prominent mustache on his lip, or “trashstache” as Court calls it, and a smile on his face, ready to do his thing. Lloyd enjoys his job, he waxes poetic about the joys of improv in torturing, and the opportunity to kill the prized asset of his former employer only sweetens the deal and raises his spirits. Evans is whistling and skipping as he inflicts government-sanctioned mayhem. It’s fun to watch him play a character this unraveled and unafraid of any repercussions for his psychotic actions.

The Gray Man also features setpiece upon setpiece of impressive action. It’s not always the best presented, the editing can be discombobulating, but there are points where the Russo’s find their footing. And the magnitude of some of the confrontations between Court and enemy forces make seeing this movie worthwhile. A tram racing through the streets of Prague with Ryan Gosling dodging enemy fire, a fistfight in the middle of a firework launcher with fireworks erupting all around, there are moments in The Gray Man that are undeniably cool.

 There are moments of action in The Gray Man where scale and invention and star power all line up for something that feels truly thrilling. Even if it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, The Gray Man’s a reminder of why the genre is so irresistible: the stars, the scope, elite operatives with big personalities, and shifting allegiances. The Gray Man is in theaters for a brief period starting July 15th, but it launches on Netflix globally on July 22nd.

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