The Film Buffa: ‘The Gray Man’ delivers genuine action thrills, along with an inherent comic lightness

Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) isn’t just a spy or killer; he’s both for the CIA. And like any high-caliber ghost, or “Gray Man,” Court’s fate will include a time where he doesn’t feel like pulling the trigger (kids nearby?) or just comes across information that wasn’t meant for his brain. Soon after this unfortunate epiphany, another deadly soul in Lloyd Hansen with a certain set of skills (Chris Evans, having a ball of a time) will come gunning for Court, and that may put Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) in the line of fire.

That’s just the first action adventure martini that the Russo Brothers-Anthony and Joseph of Marvel Universe fame-have cooked up with their latest, “The Gray Man.” That title is adapted from Mark Greaney’s spy novel series, which follows Gentry through seemingly impossible missions and various adventures. In their latest feature, The Russo Brothers get to show off their strengthened authenticity when it comes to action sequences. A fist fight staged around exploding fireworks is colorful, exhilarating, and gives you a good taste test for the next 100 minutes of unfolding plot, more action and thrills, subplots, twists, turns, and more action. This isn’t something Anthony and Joe dreamed up as something they would be required to write an Oscars speech for at a later date; it’s brothers unleashing their latest dream on the world’s biggest streaming service.

Make no mistake. This is a loud, crazy, thin on plot, high on adrenaline and heart action thriller from Netflix–cinema’s current love-to-hate but still adored and heavily consumed entertainment service. In addition to producing award winners and bringing lesser-known movies to viewer’s eyes, they also like delivering big action bangers like “The Gray Man,” a film that borrows a few pages from the playbook of “Red Notice,” which also saw two leading men tussle with a fierce lady (Armas) included. That film took a few pages from one of its co-lead’s fattest cash cows in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s “Fast & Furious” stint. All of this is fine to a film buff like me.

After all, if you’re clicking on “The Gray Man” tonight on Netflix, you need to know what you’re getting into. Heavy prosthetics doesn’t play a role in performance here: just some cool facial hair. That comes from its two leads, each of which knows exactly the kind of movie they’re in. Evans gets to break bad from his Steve Rogers/Marvel persona, doing so under the Russos just like Tom Holland, aka Spider-Man, did with the underrated 2020 film, “Cherry.” Watching Evans get more comfortable in Lloyd’s skin with each scene-especially if he gets to spar with Gosling-is a joy for anyone who knew of the actor’s talent before a certain Captain’s suit ever became available. Here’s to more of it happening, because he proves there’s more to his repertoire than a hero.

The Russos couldn’t find a better guy for Gentry than Gosling. This isn’t the super serious Gosling from “Only God Forgives” and “Drive;” it’s the playfully self-aware action hero with a sense of humor and a code of ethics Mr. Gosling. Granted, the man hasn’t made a lot of bad choices in his film career thus far, and he can play the dramatic roles very well. But like in “The Nice Guys” from Shane Black, there’s something extra in a Gosling portrayal when he seems to be winking at the camera a bit. A film like this needs some of that easygoing charisma that’s not running as fast as the action yet still entertains in its own way.

Also, let me point out that I love when adventure films slow down a bit. Seeing Court just destroy a quick meal in between gun battles was a breath of fresh air. Gentry is literally licking the packaging paper like a fitness buff would the inside of a melted power bar wrapper. It’s the little things, like Denzel once told Freddie Mercury while standing over Morbius’s body. It’s the little things that make a big, loud affair like this stack up stronger in the end.

Netflix

A nice subplot involving Gosling and a young girl (the uber-talented Julia Butters) produced “Man on Fire” vibes, which further gave some relaxation to the adrenaline-fueled plot. Alfre Woodard and Billy Bob Thornton show up and do Alfre and Billy Bob type things, which is good. Dhanush has a couple of very exciting fights, leaving you wanting more of his well-dressed assassin. Armas is so comfortable in this genre-she stole parts of Daniel Craig’s last Bond ride-and gives some extra power to these proceedings. Playing the middle with an untrustworthy fellow agent (Rege-Jean Page, from “Bridgeton”), Dani finds another fierce lady in Jessica Henrick’s Agent Brewer, who hates to see a despicable foe like Lloyd in the fray.

Get it. This film is stacked and packed with good actors, very good movie stars, and crowd-pleasing action. A film where the end is never in doubt, accompanied by a finale that leaves the door open for more time in Court’s world. I’m down with it. Gosling plays the majority of the film in an Adidas tracksuit-type and Evans can’t seem to locate a loose shirt or socks for his sleek shoes. All of that is consistently mixed into an often-invigorating, sure-as-hell far-fetched, and wholly satisfying movie.

What I also loved about this movie was the lack of an unneeded romantic subplot, and the fact that all the females in the cast weren’t brainless skirts simply there to fix the men or let them save their life. The strongest trick pulled in Joe Russo and his favorite Marvel duo writers (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) script here is making a movie look like a male-dominated arena and actually having it be a well-balanced ass-kicking party. These brothers don’t discriminate when it comes to who gets their ass kicked or who does the kicking. An Armas throwdown with Dhanush and the final tussle between Evans and Gosling delivers on equal levels. The men are capable here, but the ladies hold the real power.

Now, go watch it. Prove me right or tell me I’m wrong. My city is flooding and the world is ripping itself apart, so turn off the brain with this one.

It’s on Netflix. Enjoy and tip your writer here with a comment on the Film Buffa Facebook Page or a kind share on Twitter. We don’t make any money doing this shit, so give us some love.

One thought on “The Film Buffa: ‘The Gray Man’ delivers genuine action thrills, along with an inherent comic lightness

  1. Reviews of The Gray Man are mixed but if you liked the intermittently fast and furious pace of Bill Fairclough’s epic fact based spy novel Beyond Enkription in The Burlington Files series then you will love Anthony Russo’s The Gray Man and vice versa. They both make parts of Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series look like slow horses! The Gray Man is about a renegade CIA agent on the run and stars Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans; it’s based on Mark Greaney’s debut novel of the same name. Fairclough’s factual stand-alone thriller Beyond Enkription is about a (real life) MI6 agent on the run from international organised crime gangs and Haiti’s TonTon Macoute from London to Nassau and Port au Prince to Miami. The Gray Man and The Burlington Files are both musts for espionage aficionados. The difference between them is that The Burlington Files series has mainly had five star reviews, it’s factual, full of real characters and was written for espionage cognoscenti.

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