In a recent interview with Sky, Ryan Gosling has stated that he always wanted to lead in an action film. In The Gray Man, Gosling has been given this opportunity. Starring alongside Ana de Armas and Chris Evans, he plays the part of Sierra Six, an agent who is part of a group of CIA ‘nameless assassins with limited morality’.
At the outset of the film, Gosling’s character is visited in jail by Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton). Fitzroy gives him the opportunity to leave prison.
The catch? He must agree to an interminable period of indenture in the highly secretive CIA Sierra programme. Proof that there really is no such thing as a free lunch.
The action then jumps forward almost two decades. Sierra Six has been sent to Thailand to dispatch a target who he is informed is trading in national security secrets. All is not as it seems, however. Rather than profiting from betraying his country, the man he has been sent to terminate actually holds some compromising information on Six’s boss, Denny Carmichael.
In a nod to the old truism that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, we learn that Carmichael has been ‘using the agency as his own personal hit squad’. He has been managing the network of agents under his purview to conduct a series of highly illegal missions. Carmichael’s character is like the action film version of J. Edgar Hoover. With a vast network of secret intel, almost limitless resources and unquestioningly loyal acolytes, Carmichael runs his bailiwick like his own personal fiefdom. Just what Hoover’s critics have accused him of doing during his 48 year tenure at the helm of the FBI.
Sierra Six is pursued on a continent spanning trail of destruction by Evans’ character Lloyd Hansen, who has been sub-contracted to clean up his superior’s mess. The hand to hand combat scenes are of the Bourne Identity type and it is interesting to see de Aramas go toe to toe with the baddies alongside Gosling.
The gyroscopic camera work in the film is very impressive and the action scenes are shot on an ambitious scale. Overall though, the action sequences that the directors managed to deliver don’t make the film’s $200 million price tag look like money well spent. Some of the shots look like bargain-basement CGI shoehorned onto conventional green screen.
The film references the recently vacated James Bond leading role. In one scene, Gosling’s character jokingly states that he took the number six because 007 was already taken.
He has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Daniel Craig in the aforementioned role and his performance in this film is entirely passable, but if this is to be viewed as Gosling’s audition for the Bond role, he’d do well not to pack away his interview suit just yet.
This is overall an entertaining film, not quite there in terms of the production values that you would expect from the traditional, cinema released blockbuster.
If the understanding between audience and producers is that you can watch a big name production like this without having to leave home and are happy to accept its shortcomings, then Netflix do have a winning formula.
One can’t help wondering, though, just how good their big budget films could be if a little more time was given to fleshing out the characters and investing more realism into the action scenes. Until that time, Netflix’s forays into this genre will remain profitable vehicles for all involved, but struggle to be more than a simulacrum of traditional Hollywood mega-hits like Terminator or the original Star Wars.
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