If you’d told me two days ago I’d be chomping at the bit to see a spy-thriller for a second time, I’d have laughed. It’s just not my genre. I mean, I’ve only seen Die Hard once, and that was more than enough for me. But then the Russo brothers had to come in and make me question all my preferences with their new Netflix blockbuster The Gray Man.
First off, let’s not sugar coat it, the ensemble cast and the Russos themselves are what drew me to watch in the first place. I’m sure that was intentional, and it once again proves the Russos know how to get people to their movies, even for a premise one might not particularly gravitate to. And this cast was stellar.
Ryan Gosling is jarringly charming as the deadpanned, even-keeled Gray Man, Sierra Six. The way he balanced the brutality of Court Gentry’s skill with dry, perfectly delivered humor was nothing short of remarkable. Sign me up for a trilogy or whatever else has been considered because I’m all in on following Six to the edges of the globe for the jokes alone.
Opposite the cool, calm, and collected Six is the morally reprehensible Lloyd Hansen played by Chris Evans, and what a delightfully disgusting character he is. Evans dropped his Captain America act three years ago and has toyed with another irredeemable character in Knives Out, but Hansen takes him to a new bottom-feeding level. Trashstache and all, the sneer on his face and evil lilt in his voice transform one of Hollywood’s sweethearts into the ultimate unfixable but still alluring villain. Someone this downright despicable shouldn’t be this funny, by the way, so get ready to throw standards out the window. (Also, I hated on the mustache since its dastardly reveal, and I’m now willing to say I was wrong. It was necessary.)
These two fighting against one another was the perfect dichotomy, and the mano a mano fight that ultimately ensues is one of the best one-on-one fights I’ve ever had the privilege to watch. I was utterly enthralled with every swing of a fist and destesting glare shot at the other; I’d watch it 10 more times just to pick up on all the other subtle details.
However, no good story forgoes a heart, and the one beating at the center of The Gray Man is strong and unyielding. It’s just enough to add stakes and purpose without detracting from the Gray Man’s character we see built in the first act. Its gradual, plausible progression throughout the entire arc is both satisfying in story and in execution, with enough bricks built in the beginning to give it a strong foundation for the final crescendo in the closing scenes. Action is fun, but action with a purpose is better, and this one delivers.
What’s clear about the Russo brothers and their films is that they make them for audiences. Would they say no to some gold? Probably not. Are they setting out to make films that audiences may not enjoy but panels of critics and boards will eat up? Nope. They’re making movies for moviegoers, and it shows. They grant their actors freedom to create and build upon what’s written on the page, they know the actors know these characters better than they do, and that kind of collaboration always makes for some of the greatest experiences for everyone around the table, including so many fantastic ad-libbed moments that only heighten the scenes to new levels.
So, yeah, the Russos have landed another hole-in-one. Do I feel shame for doubting it? I sure do. But I’m eagerly awaiting the Netflix release so I can dive into this one again, which again, was not something I ever anticipated feeling. If you love a good story, impeccable action, immersive cinematography, and some good humor, then this one’s for you, too.
The Gray Man is playing now in select theaters and premieres on Netflix July 22.