The Gray Man is a masterclass in wasting talent | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Gray Man is a masterclass in wasting talent

click to enlarge Actor Chris Evans stands holding a gun in the movie The Gray Man.
Photo: Paul Abell/Netflix
Chris Evans in The Gray Man
Ryan Gosling might be my favorite movie star. He is one of Hollywood’s most underrated comedic actors and can do blockbuster cinema at the drop of the hat. Chris Evans is a gem when he gets a chance to let his hair down. Ana De Armas should be cast in every action movie from now until the end of time.

That Anthony and Joe Russo can take an ensemble like that and a $200-plus million budget and still deliver an uninspired, bland waste of talent is a crime that deserves the same level of investigation as Watergate.

The Gray Man (now streaming on Netflix) stars Gosling as someone with a name you’re not supposed to remember (apparently it’s “Court Gentry," which can’t possibly be true), but his code name is Sierra Six; he’s an ex-con recruited by a fun-but-barely-trying Billy Bob Thornton to go be a Gray Man, an assassin for the government who doesn’t exist. He stumbles across some government conspiracy that the script never bothers to flesh out and ends up in the world’s most expensive game of chicken with private sector hired gun Lloyd Hansen (Evans).

Picking apart logistical inconsistencies in spy movies is like trying to find the larger meaning in a Machine Gun Kelly song, but it is worth noting here that the CIA allows Hansen to kill nothing short of a hundred people (many of them cops), all because “he’s an asset recovery expert.” At least the Russos, only a couple of films removed from their Avengers stint, continue to make it very clear what they think of the bystanders in their films.

The gratuitous murdering would be easy to overlook if there were more fun things to look at. I watched The Gray Man while recovering from a debilitating eye injury and I have to thank the kid that smoked me in the face with a baseball for letting me only experience such bad filmmaking out of one good retina.

It’s legitimately astonishing the lack of care that went into the direction here; in a modern action landscape where filmmakers have recognized the value of lingering on the fight choreography, the Russos make their set pieces so visually incoherent and the cuts so jarring that you basically just give up trying to piece together who’s fighting who. (One scene involving a jump from a plane resembles Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol if you removed all semblance of spectacle).

The tonal inconsistency makes it clear how little the Russos understood what they wanted The Gray Man to be. It opens with a surprisingly awesome and colorfully lit set piece in Bangkok, then mainly stays three shades of sepia the rest of the runtime. It’s trying to sell itself as a wisecracking macho man franchise one minute, then immediately turns around and does painfully saccharine kid-protector cliches the next (every scene involving Sierra Six bantering with the young girl played by Julia Butters just highlights how much better this dynamic was done in The Nice Guys, and how much this movie should have just been given to Shane Black instead).

Again, none of this should be seen as a slight on the actors, who all take turns chewing scenery, delivering lines with as much joy as they can, and proving they’re all worthy of carrying an action franchise by themselves. It’s just a shame they’re saddled with a movie that’s far less interested in caring than they are.

The Gray Man is now available to stream on Netflix.