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The Gray Man Is the Best Title of the Year

Matt is a movie watcher, book reader, video game player, and music listener


When it comes to letting the audience know what they can expect from a movie, The Gray Man might just be the most appropriate title I've ever heard.

When the most character depth we get from a movie is just Chris Evans being called an asshole by everyone, it doesn't give you high hopes for the rest of the cast. And you'll be all the more annoyed if you watch this movie and see that I am not exaggerating at all.

The movie follows an assassin codenamed 'Six' (Ryan Gosling), a highly trained, resourceful, and tough operative who has a soft spot (his superiors consider it a weakness) for kids. So think Matt Damon's Jason Bourne but unfortunately lacking Damon's everyman charm or any real sense of mystery around the character.

Like all protagonists today, Six is dealing with some past traumas in his life that he confesses to Ana De Armas' character (who is only every referred to as 'Agent') as being an abusive father that Six eventually killed to protect his younger brother, landing him in prison from which he is recruited into the secretive 'Sierra' program by Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thorton).

Characters dealing with past trauma is a great technique to make them feel believable and damaged when done well, and a cheap excuse to make the movie seem weightier and more serious than it actually is when done poorly. The Gray Man is very much in the latter category, Six's trauma is forgotten about for much of the movie and is only ever a factor when speaking to Fitzroy's niece Claire (Julia Butters), or when, in the final fight against Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) Six uses the power of PTSD to regain the advantage in their fight and defeat him.

Six discovers early on in the movie that the 'Sierra' division is being done away with and in it's place will be a private hit squad and terrorist for hire group led by the asshole Lloyd Hansen. In what is Chris Evan's latest attempt to get as far away from Steve Rogers as possible he gleefully steps into the role of a psychopathic murderer and it really...doesn't work.

Evans' performance feels exactly like that, a performance. It feels like Jim Halpert's performance in Threat Level Midnight as GoldenFace, a pretty normal guy who's trying his best to be as evil and mean as possible. And boy, does Evan's do some absolutely hilarious overacting in this movie. From quoting Babe, to constantly obnoxiously chewing gum, to screaming 'MORONS!' and kicking a pile of corpses, it's the funniest performance he's given since Not Another Teen Movie.

Unfortunately, one thing he certainly is not is a menacing, believable action movie bad guy (although he does have a very strong mustache). His character is a 'stached Steve Haines from GTA V with more bodies on him, and you will not find a single soul who played GTA V and then said "Man, that Agent Haines character huh? What a great creation!"

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Also part of this movie's cast is Alfre Woodard, Jessica Henwick, Rege-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, and Dhanush. Packed full of great actors and they are all blown out of the water in this movie by 13 year old Julia Butters, who most will remember as Rick Dalton's young co-star in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Butters is the only actor in this movie that feels actually engaged in the plot, and when she yells out to one character near the end it wakes you up out of the nap this movie nearly put you in. When you’ve got that much talent in your movie and almost all of them seem like amateurs then I think you’ve grabbed the George Lucas Championship Belt of Making Great Actors look like Jokes.

Aside from wasting the talent gifted to this movie, directors Anthony and Joe Russo also decided to send in their Final Cut with very obvious CGI shots and a plot full of cliches. Which only become problems when the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too and ‘call out’ the old action movies cliches. When a character sacrifices themselves in an explosion so that Six can escape, there’s an immediate cut to Chris Evans joking ‘Well, that was unexpected’. When Fitzroy asks Six where he is, Six responds ‘Emotionally? I’ve been better’. When ‘Agent’ tries to shoot Dhanush and realizes the gun is empty Six quips ‘What? I mean who throws a loaded gun?’

Yes, this movie has a bad case of MCU humor, which isn’t that surprising given that both the directors and writers of this movie have been responsible for MCU projects like Winter Soldier, Infinity War, and Endgame.

I’ve gone back and forth on the idea of whether or not this movie was going to be a parody at some point in its development, and I’ve landed on that its pretty likely the idea was at least discussed a few times. My best evidence for this has to be the location titles in this movie, after almost every single scene ends the next one starts with big title font announcing where in the world you are. Even if you can easily guess where they are, or even if it’s a location like a runway Six visits early in the movie, has a quick thirty second scene there, and then is never shown again. Was it important? Not at all, but now I know it’s called the Chiang Mai extraction site. At one point Six and Agent are discussing their next move and Agent announces that they need to head to Prague and starts driving in a different direction. The next scene opens with a sweeping shot of a city, but where could they be? I’ve forgotten already, oh good, the big letters say ‘PRAGUE‘. Now I know they’re in Prague.

Ultimately, The Gray Man is a great example of a modern day bad movie. Trying to set up its own cinematic universe even if it makes no sense? Check. Overuse of MCU style ‘Hey that cliche!’ humor? Check. Lazy attempts at timely character motivations and lifeless performances from good actors? Check. Obvious CGI? Check Check Check. (My reviewing partner, who only plays her old Wii nowadays, turned to me during one of the CG shots and said ‘This looks like some weird video game’)

Even in writing this review, a small part of me does wonder if this movie is actually meant to be a parody, that all these cliches are stacked up for a reason. What if this movie is a challenge to modern audiences to see if they can just enjoy something? What if we’ve become so cynical and skeptical of everything that we can no longer have fun watching a dumb action movie? What if…the real Gray Man…were the uncomfortable truths we realized about ourselves?

Sorry, I accidentally added some of the script I’ve written for five years from now when people are calling this movie ‘misunderstood’.


© 2022 Matt Evangelisto

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