I’ve noticed a trend in the way Netflix makes movies. They snatch up a few good or popular actors, get a half-decent director onboard, and burn obscene amounts of money… using most of their efforts (and budget) for special effects and paying their stars, rather than developing a half-decent story. At this point, it feels like each time Netflix releases their latest big action flick, they promote it with, “hey, look at us! We got (insert actor name) for a new movie! What’s that? Is it a GOOD movie? Well, we have (insert actor name)… it must be!”
Having snagged the likes of Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana De Armas, and Billy Bob Thornton for their new film The Gray Man, Netflix was more than poised to repeat their typical cycle of uninspired content output. Heck, they even got Joe and Anthony Russo — the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, one of the best action movies of the last decade — on board to helm this star-studded outing. Despite Netflix’s tendencies in cases like these, I went into The Gray Man with optimism. But truth be told, I ended up entering that Netflix void like I was getting back together with a toxic ex; no matter the optimism… it was bound to crash and burn.
The Gray Man follows an agent codenamed Sierra Six (Gosling). “Six” is a part of a small CIA division called the Sierra program, which recruits its members by offering freedom to convicts in exchange for their loyalty and service. When we first meet Six, we learn he was originally sent to prison for killing his abusive father to protect his brother. Later on, a mission he carries out with fellow CIA agent Dani Miranda (De Armas) shows Six going against orders to protect civilians; he may have been a criminal, but he’s certainly a moral one.
In any case, the mission involves the elimination of a mysterious target; Six and Miranda aren’t informed of his identity, and are only told he is suspected of selling classified government information. That is, until Six comes face-to-face with him, and he reveals himself as Sierra Four. He then hands Six a drive which contains incriminating evidence against Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page) — the CIA official behind the mission — before dying. Believing Sierra Four, Six goes on the run with the help of his friend (and the man who originally recruited him) Donald Fitzroy (Thornton). To aid him in the murder of the now-rogue Six, Carmichael enlists the help of the theatrical mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Evans).
Both promotionally and in practice, it’s the expensive cast that (sometimes) works for The Gray Man. Gosling plays his usual reserved self in his performance as Six… his first film role since First Man back in 2018. It’s nowhere near the level of acting we’ve come to expect from him, but he’s still a fantastic casting choice for an action star who can be cool without spouting a one-liner every five seconds. On the FAR opposite end of the spectrum is Six’s main adversary, the psychopathic killer brought to life by Evans… and basically his character from Knives Out turned up to 11. I think he does a decent enough job, although I can’t help but feel he would have been a better fit for a Robert Rodriguez movie with the level of bravado he brings to the table; not a bad characterization, but really out of place when contrasted directly to Gosling’s performance. One scene in particular has him furiously yelling at his dead henchmen before kicking and shooting them… and that’s pretty much what you can expect the whole way through.
I gotta say though, that’s about the only praise I have to sing. Sure, we’ve still got De Armas and Thornton in supporting roles… allegedly; neither of them are really given all that much to do. The few fleeting moments of screen time they do get only serve to remind us of the wasted potential for their characters, and (particularly in De Armas’ case) are comprised primarily of bland action sequences. How bland? I’m talking inconsistent combat, overreliance on CGI, and green screens so blatantly obvious they might as well just show the raw footage. What really irks me is this: the production budget for this was 200 MILLION dollars! For reference, last year’s Dune — the latest winner of the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects — had a budget of only 165 million; how does a movie with such an absurd amount of money thrown at it end up looking this terrible?
And so, it would seem Netflix is still up to its old tricks when it comes to banal content output. My disappointment in The Gray Man’s unoriginality is trumped only by its lazy and half-hearted execution of said unoriginality. Maybe one day they’ll realize that the key to salvaging their plummeting subscriber numbers doesn’t lie in raising their prices and laying off hundreds of workers; you’d think it’d be obvious, but the secret they so dumbfoundedly overlook is to simply make good original movies. But for now, I suppose we just have to put up with the fact that this derivative slop has an upcoming sequel.
Overall rating: 3/10