TL;DR – when the CIA seeks to disband a program of government elite assassins known as “the Gray Men” in order to retrieve stolen intel damning the agency itself, they put in charge a mercenary with sociopathic tendencies. Really smart move…not.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) has been incarcerated since he was 15 and is serving a 36-year prison sentence for killing his father.
Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) waltzes in, gives some watermelon bubble gum to Court, and tells him he’s there to commute his sentence.
The catch? Court has to come work for the CIA and be part of a black ops unit called the Sierra program and “exist in the gray” serving his government masters indefinitely but at least free to move on the outside instead of being stuck behind bars.
Fast forward 18 years and Court (aka “Sierra Six”) is in Bangkok at a raucous party of the rich and criminal kind and assigned a job to assassinate a bad guy. Things go sideways when Court refuses to fire because of collateral (a child is near the mark). Court is ordered by his Center Chief, Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page), to take the shot and permitting him to incur collateral damage, but Court feigns his gun jamming. He pulls the fire alarm and in the ensuing chaos, attempts to get close enough to his target and kill him direct.
His target turns out to be Sierra Four. Sierra Six is never told the identity of his targets, and so Sierra Four tells Court that he’s been sent to kill one of his own. The ensuing fist fight among fireworks going off leads to Four being killed but not before he hands Six a pendant containing a USB stick with sensitive information showing the agency has corruption within and that he’ll be targeted next.
Sure enough, mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) is hired by Carmichael and sent to take Sierra Six down. Chris Evans plays the sociopathic mercenary with relish, but it is a challenge to see him as anything other than an evil Captain America. The character Lloyd is a sick, torture-loving, rack up the body count as much as we have to, kind of guy and Evans delivers this role with guns blazing and biceps flexing in the kind of one-dimensional way that is sadly lacking any depth or complexity.
It is clear early on that Denny Carmichael is the corruption within because no sane person would utilise a loose cannon like Lloyd unless they had no scruples themselves. When Six eventually is able to decrypt the USB stick, it is shown there are videos of all the corrupt dealings that Denny has been involved in and the kills he has committed (or got others to commit) in order to further his own ends.
Through flashbacks, we discover that Court committed murder because his father abused him and his brother. This includes his father dunking his head in a tub of water and nearly drowning him along with using a car cigarette lighter and burning his arm. The breaking point is revealed when Court has to stop his father from killing his brother. It’s not any more layered than Lloyd’s character, but Ryan Gosling does his best to portray some level of complexity to his character in flashback scenes where he is assigned to look after Fitzroy’s niece earlier on in his career as Sierra Six.
The film is jam packed with action sequences that show why The Gray Man is the most expensive film ($200 million budget) ever produced by Netflix to date.
But does combining cash-draining action with a star studded cast equate to a great film? Or even an enjoyable one?
The answer is no. The problems lie in the plot. Even if you accept both Carmichael and Lloyd’s carte blanche power to seemingly be able to do whatever they want, which results in kidnapping, torture and murder of high ranking officials, destruction of cities and enough civilian casualties that you think that countries have somehow declared war on each other without knowing, there are huge problems by film’s end.
For example, when Lloyd and Court face-off in one final macho fist-fight, Lloyd actually has Court exactly where he wants him. Prior to said fight, Lloyd has Fitzroy’s niece at gun point and forces Court to lay down his weapon. Lloyd should have shot Court at this point and that would be game over. But instead, he goes on a short monologue about how he wants to test himself against Court in a fist-fight. After spending countless resources, hiring numerous hitmen, and causing death and destruction, Lloyd finally has the upper hand on Court and instead decides he wants to go toe-to-toe with him instead. Inexplicably, he lets Fitzroy’s niece go, lays down his own weapon and essentially challenges Court to a UFC match to the death. It’s moronic and silly.
And then in this same scene, Court (who has an earpiece and is working with non-corrupt CIA agent, Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas)) is told by Dani that she is in sniper position and can take Lloyd out. Why she didn’t do this once Lloyd willingly releases Fitzroy’s niece is baffling. Court actually accepts Lloyd’s UFC death match challenge and tells Dani to stand down. Idiotic.
The film also suffers from this sense that the story moves for the sole purpose of jumping from one action scene to the next. It is almost as if the Russo brothers who directed this film couldn’t care less about a coherent story and just wanted to show off how they could do these eye-watering action sequences. “Forget plot, more action!” I can hear them shout.
This could have been the next Bourne Identity, a spy thriller that reveals conspiracies in a genuine mysterious and gripping way rather than this over-the-top bombastic affair.
When Court and Lloyd duke it out, I was exhausted by all the previous action and numb from any sense of gravity of the situation. Not that any of it made much sense anyway.
If you’re after a mindless (or mind-numbing) action fest with no need for depth then The Gray Man will be right up your alley. Action without the thrills.
5 out of 10