Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 6 minutes, Directors – Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
After uncovering dark secrets during a mission a CIA agent (Ryan Gosling) finds himself being hunted around the world by a merciless rogue agent (Chris Evans) and his team.
Long associated with the superpowered hero, Chris Evans appears to relish the opportunity to play the moustachioed bad guy. Mercilessly ordering any innocent people who dare get in his way, even if unknowingly, to be shot as soon as possible. He’s the kind of informally-clothed villain to sit and watch such events unfold from his enclosed, high-tech control room, giving casual orders while he sips his alcoholic beverage of choice. It’s all part of the way in which he plays up the ‘enjoying being bad’ villain role that the he’s been given by directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – who spent much time with Evans in the realms of the MCU.
Yet, Evans’ Lloyd Hansen is still a character unafraid to get his won hands dirty, and appears to look forward to it. Especially when it comes to bringing in an anonymous CIA agent known as Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling). We follow Six being hunted around the world after having discovered a series of dark secrets whilst on a mission, secrets which many higher ups don’t want leaked from the USB device which he has obtained. While much of this is held in the first 10-15 minutes you don’t quite feel the real chase element of the film starting until almost 30-40 minute into the piece. What comes beforehand feels slightly slow and wandering, trying to get characters to and through other locations so that things can properly pick up.
Even the action in the build-up to this feels relatively lacking. Perhaps being watched on the small screen a sense of spectacle is removed, creating a sense of disengagement. You don’t quite feel the impact of a place effectively being ripped in half whilst crashing mid-flight, it simply feels a slightly, if chaotically, rambling addition to the build-up. Where the film succeeds most is in the quieter moments that provide context and further insight into certain relationships within the film – particularly that between Six and the niece of the man who got him out of prison and into the CIA (Billy Bob Thornton), Claire (an enjoyably confident, if written-as-plot-device Julia Butters).
It certainly feels as if most characters are written mostly as devices to move the narrative forwards. Luckily, this isn’t quite a glaringly obvious point which burdens the film and is further lightened by the fact of good performances from the likes of Regé-John Page and Ana de Armas. Performances which come through best, as with the film in general, during the quieter less-action based scenes. In terms of the action the more restrained sequences are where things truly land an impact. Simple first and knife fights, which actually make up a large part of the major confrontations, gain more of a reaction than the larger set-ups of group operations causing chaos in the middle of a city.
Yet, such sequences still manage to have a point of general interest held within them. It keeps things moving along and means that the viewer doesn’t feel shut out or majorly disengaged once more solidly engaged in the feature and the globetrotting narrative that it depicts. There are a number of things to like about The Gray Man, particularly once it gets going and most of the elements have been established. It might take some time for this to happen, but it’s generally worthwhile in the end. Perhaps not an epic spy thriller spectacle, although some of this may be down to having not been viewed on the big screen where a number of sequences feel like they belong, but still solid enough viewing for what it does eventually deliver, helped by the more restrained elements which allow the more confrontational elements of the central hero-villain chase come through.
Whilst finding its footing The Gray Man feels wandering, however as it solidifies itself with more restrained sequences things begin to pick up, allowing for more to come through in the central chase and a number of the action sequences, particularly the closer ones, which follow.