The Gray Man

The Gray Man
The Gray Man
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Joe and Anthony Russo are back with another misshapen but fascinating left turn after their last film, Cherry. They’re back with several bangs — all of them loud and expensive-looking. After the one-two punch of Infinity War and Endgame, the directing brothers return to blockbuster cinema in rude health with this assured, energetic, consistently compelling caper. We are talking about The Gray Man movie here.

It ticks every box on the modern espionage action-thriller checklist: an air-mile-heavy international itinerary; a USB drive MacGuffin; a web of shady conspiracies that goes all the way to the top — and at the middle, a gun-for-hire wrestling with what it means to be a good man. Based on Mark Greaney’s books (the first being renamed here; perhaps you’ve heard of its author’s other adaptation-friendly creation: Tom Clancy’s The Without Remorse Echo And The Cat From Outer Space Force?), Bourne or Bond comparisons are there for the both making and taking. But Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus — regular screenwriters for the Russos — are self-aware enough to do it for you. Their script tipsily lurches from genre trope to genre trope without quite escaping any of them; any overt seriousness is gently leavened by an occasional grenade of glibness.

Central to that balancing act are Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans as opposing A-list leads. Two sides of the same incredibly handsome coin (their respective allegiances handily signposted by facial hair; beard = goodie; moustache = baddie), both are electrically watchable. Evans in particular gleefully pisses on Captain America’s legacy here, portraying exactly the kind of villain that even Thanos would consider “a bit rude”. Lloyd is essentially just a weapons-grade asshole who trades in bad ethics and zero impulse control — he’s an absolute riot.

Gosling is more restrained by comparison — it’s another taciturn role where he uses his preternatural looks as a deadpan shield — but he’s still effortless, by turns winkingly charming and brutally convincing; sprinkling pathos and humanity into his hardened CIA off-books killer. For a first-time action-blockbuster role, he looks like he’s been dodging fireballs for years.

Which is handy, because he does have to do a lot of that. There are nine full-blown giant action sequences scattered throughout the running time, featuring explosive fireworks (in the opening fight, literally so); across planes, trams and automobiles. While you might feel the CGI in certain moments, the Russos’ action here is more Winter Soldier than Infinity War — lots of ground-level, stylishly shot muscular hand-to-hand combat.

In fact there’s so much of it that it really is an action film first, spy thriller second; anyone expecting a John le Carré pot-boiler should look elsewhere. There’s not much room for character work outside of those lead two either — Ana de Armas isn’t given the opportunity to steal scenes in the way she did in No Time To Die. But while it might sometimes feel like relatively superficial entertainment, it is undeniably damned entertaining, and confidently executed. And if sequels are indeed coming (as has been hinted), then we’re ready for 49 shades more of Gray.

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