Netflix has been having a rough time recently. While they were on the top of the world just a few years ago, the streaming company has been hemorrhaging subscribers for the past few months. I can’t say the reason for this but I’m guessing there’s just a lot of competition nowadays and Netflix has been trying to win back customers by offering new and, more importantly, exclusive stuff. If I’m being honest, it hasn’t been going all that well, with critical failures like Interceptor and Cowboy Bebop.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be giving Netflix a chance, though. If they have something new that looks like it could be good, I’ll go give it a watch. Which is why I booted up the subscription service and checked out their most recent offering, The Gray Man.
Since I know a lot of subscribers have already cut ties with Netflix, there must be a contingent of people wondering if The Gray Man is reason enough to, at the very least, try out a free trial with service again just to see it. So, with these people in mind, I will making this a SPOILER FREE review.
The gist of The Gray Man has black ops operative Sierra Six come across some information that some of the top people in the CIA has been using assets to fulfill their own agenda. Now hunted by a very zealous owner of a private military company, former agent Sierra Six has to try to elude capture while, at the same time, try to rescue the kidnapped niece of his former mentor.
The first thing that struck me is how this Netflix produced action movie does look or feel like any of the previous other Netflix produced movies. They usually have this, well, cheap feel to them and it always feels like they had to cut corners here and there to keep costs low. The Gray Man isn’t that way and you can see Netflix put a ton of money into it. The big areas look like they really travelled to that specific location and not rely on using huge sets and CGI wizardry to make it look like they’re there. Basically, it comes across like a legitimate big screen movie Netflix got the license to.
The action is, mostly, pretty good. A lot of the fight scenes are filmed so everything does fit into frame. Also, no shaky cam… which should be a good thing. Unfortunately, they swapped that out with a lot of jump cuts in-between the punches, kicks and shootouts. There are also times when the fights are filled with a lot of distracting elements, like fireworks. It’s not necessarily terrible as it’s still quite easy to follow what’s happening and who’s getting hit or not. You do have to concentrate a little bit harder than a cleanly shot action scene. Thankfully, the climatic battle at the end foregoes all the clever and fancy stuff to just frame the fight in an easy-to-follow manner.
The acting is, overall, pretty good, which is what you should expect from such a talented cast. I honestly thought they made a mistake by casting Ryan Gosling as a black-ops secret agent because I didn’t think he had the chops to play a stoic badass, totally forgetting he was in films like Drive and Blade Runner 2049. I will say he doesn’t quite pull off the role perfectly as there are some moments that came of rather ambiguous if he was being playful or dead serious. Still, Ryan Gosling did a really good job her as agent Sierra Six.
I also thought Chris Evans was kind of miscast and the main antagonist, Llyod Hansen, as I couldn’t picture him as a badass douche, totally forgetting once again he was in Knives Out. I honestly loved his performance here and it looks like he was having a lot of fun with the role. While I do wish he came off as more threatening overall because a lot of what he does is cartoonishly evil, it’s still probably the most fun performance here.
The rest of the cast does, well, okay but really feel underutilized. Ana De Armas’ Dani Miranda, a CIA agent who decides to help Sierra Six has a lot of screen time but you never really know much about her or even why she opts to risk her career to help a rogue asset. Jessica Henwick’s Susanne Brewer seems to be stuck in panic mode for most of the film. And Rege-Jean Page plays the mastermind of the entire thing… and all he does is just try to act cunning in all his scenes, never giving any real range to gauge how good of a performer he is. The only supporting role with any significant meat comes from Billy Bob Thorton as Sierra Six’s former trainer and mentor. Even then, he feels like more of a plot device than an actual person and, well, he acts like your typical hardened CIA agent with a heart of gold. Nothing really special.
Probably the weakest thing about The Gray Man is the general plot and, this may sound odd, the names of the characters. I know these characters are based on book series… but I just laughed out loud when I figured out Ryan Gosling’s codename is Sierra Six! It just sounds like the code name a second grader would give a James Bond ripoff. Yes, it’s played for laughs once in the movie but, when the movie acknowledges how dumb the name is, then you know even the producers knew it’s a silly name. Also, it’s hard to take a villain seriously when his first name is Llyod. It’s kind of like Deadpool making fun of Francis because of how lame it sounds! I guess that’s why Chris Evans plays him like a psycho; it’s because no one took him seriously when he tried out for the CIA!
Anyway, the names are the least of The Gray Man’s worries. The general script, while not terrible, is overly cliched by this time. It has all the spy thriller tropes from evil government agencies out to get the rogue good agent, the sociopathic killer who thinks killing and torture is super fun and the utterly helpless kid who acts like a wiseass when everything is fine but clams up when in danger. Let’s not forget the unfortunate and traumatic childhood upbringing our hero had to endure to make him the man he is today. All of these things aren’t bad; they are overused tropes because they generally work. But they’ve been done in much better films than The Gray Man.
The Gray Man is a fine movie. I had a fun time watching it but I wouldn’t say it’s anything special at the same time. It’s fun for what it is: a fun action spy movie. Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans pull off great performance but that’s not enough to elevate the film from being just “good.” I say, if you’ve already cut all ties with Netflix yourself, find a friend who still has the service and watch it with them. It’s not renewing your subscription over.
Have you seen The Gray Man? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!