Review by Dan Skip Allen
Joe and Anthony Russo have had a pretty good career since hooking up with Kevin Fiege and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since then, their AGBO Production company has made a handful of films starring actors they worked with in the MCU — 21 Bridges, Extraction, and Cherry — as well as the widely popular Everything Everywhere All at Once directed by Daniels. The Russos' next film, The Gray Man, stars Chris Evans, another frequent MCU collaborator of theirs, alongside Ryan Gosling, a newcomer into their fold.
Connor Gentry (Ryan Gosling) is a prisoner serving a long sentence for murder. When CIA Operative Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) comes to recruit him to be an asset for his elite team, the Sierra Six, he reluctantly says yes. Over the years, he becomes the best asset the CIA has. When he is sent to take out one of his own team, it raises red flags, and he is now considered public enemy number one. When the CIA realizes what has happened, they send other members of the elite team to take him out, led by Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans)
The Russos have assembled an all-star cast for this action thriller set in a fictional world of spies and assassins. Ana De Armas, Regé-Jean Page, and Jessica Henwick play teammates or men and women out to get Gosling's character. Julia Butters plays the teenage daughter of Billy Bob Thornton's character. This cast is fantastic, all playing their roles to a tee. Some are a bit over the top, but since that's what the film is going for, it works perfectly fine.
A MacGuffin is an item or person that helps the story progress without much explanation. In this film, it's a computer drive that supposedly contains CIA secrets. Most of the action in the movie is due to the cast chasing after Gosling's character, who possesses this drive. All of this action is fantastic. There are chase sequences on foot and car chases and fights that rival any MCU movie the Russo's have done. The action in this film is first-rate and a lot of fun to follow.
The film is based on the book by Mark Greaney. It is a book in the Gray Man series and focuses mainly on the Sierra Six, this elite group of CIA Operatives. The script is penned by two popular men who had worked with the Russo's before: Christophe Markus and Stephen McFeely. They have made the dialogue in the film fast-paced and very witty. Each actor, especially Chris Evans, has time to shine in this film with their dialogue. The fast action of the film lends itself perfectly to the equally quick script which the actors run with. This helps because some of the story is a bit formulaic.
Thornton's character says at the beginning of the film that he and his team work in the grey area of the world and society and that coins the film's title. Boy, did he mean business because this film goes everywhere from Vienna to Prague to Bangkok, and that globetrotting helped make the movie and story a lot more fun to watch. All the action spanned the globe, and I was utterly engrossed in everything I saw and had the pleasure of enjoying in The Gray Man. Netflix might have another hit on its hands with this film which could be a franchise. Let's not put the cart before the horse just yet, though.
The Gray Man reminded me of all the action films and franchises I saw in the '80s and '90s, like Mission: Impossible, James Bond, Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard. These franchises started with a pretty simple concept and ran with it. The action sequences and fight scenes are first-rate, and the script and dialogue lend themselves to the absurdity of the overall film. The Russos assembled an all-star cast to bring this book to life, and if audiences respond to it as I did, there might be a few more of these Gray Man films coming down the pipeline.
The Gray Man is now playing in theaters and streams on Netflix beginning July 22.