Colorless, by Bob Connally

26 Jul

I’ve long held to the belief that “a good movie is a good movie.” In other words, genre and target audience don’t limit me. If you tell a good story well, I’m going to recognize it and appreciate it. Sure, maybe Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is theoretically more directly aimed at women above the age of 50 than guys like me but it’s a delightful film that I thoroughly enjoyed. But when it comes to “guys like me” (“Guys like me?! I’m a guy like me!”), my heart belongs to well executed action films. The visceral thrills of movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Top Gun: Maverick keep me coming back to them and bring me a special kind of joy. When filmmakers and dedicated stunt people create a realistic action sequence, the audience can sense that commitment to doing something difficult and sometimes dangerous for something as simple as our entertainment. We owe these people our gratitude. But like anything else, there are examples of when it doesn’t work. Unfortunately, as an action film, The Gray Man falls into that category.

Six (Ryan Gosling) is a CIA operative who refuses to carry out an order to kill a target when it would endanger a child. Instead, Six takes another approach and puts himself at a much higher risk, choosing a hand-to-hand fight with his target rather than a sniper shot. Six wins the battle but, with his final breaths, the target reveals that he is a fellow CIA agent. He tells Six that the man who sent him is corrupt, handing Six an encrypted drive with the evidence.

Six’s former boss, Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) is retired and taking care of his niece, Claire (Julia Butters, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Claire’s parents are deceased, she has a heart condition, and despite being retired, Fitzroy’s job makes him forever a target. Enter Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), an independent contractor whom the CIA hires to do the jobs too dirty to put on the books. With Six’s new boss wanting that drive, he permits Hansen to do as he pleases to retrieve it. For Hansen, this means kidnapping Claire and squeezing Fitzroy to hand over Six.

As a spy thriller, there’s nothing you haven’t seen done better before. It’s pretty standard stuff on that level. However, if the action were creative and thrilling then you’d have something here. Directed by the Russo brothers, the action is incredibly disappointing. Many sequences suffer from a common problem today, which is that they’re too dark to see and, when you can see them, they mostly look fake. One of the reasons the John Wick films work as well as they do is that the filmmakers care that the audience is able to see and process what’s happening on screen, even as quickly as it unfolds. We feel even punch, kick, knife, and bullet in those movies. Conversely, there’s no sense of danger or reality here, making these elaborate scenes unengaging. There’s even an inconsistency to the tone of the action scenes through the film. Sometimes it wants to be John Wick before wanting to be Fast Five and that combination just doesn’t blend.

This lack of engagement and inconsistency extends to the direction of the actors. Gosling’s reaction (or lack of one) to being thrown by an explosion is unintentionally hilarious. He looks like a man who just stepped off of a bus. The way Six is written (screenplay by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely) compounds the problem. One moment Gosling seems to be in a Nicolas Winding Refn film, the next he and a wasted Ana de Armas are trading quips that could have worked in a movie with a different overall tone, but that just don’t fit here. Gosling seems to be doing his best to make these things work together but there’s little he can do. His legitimately brilliant comic performance in The Nice Guys proves he has incredible comedic talent but here he awkwardly powers through a dry aside.

It’s not all bad however. Butters proves that even with less-than-great material to work with (this is a far cry from working with Tarantino) that she is a talented young actress with a big future should she want it. The biggest saving grace of The Gray Man though is Evans. He and his mustache chew the scenery with a delight that is absolutely infectious. His character may not fit the movie he’s in, but Evans fits the character from beginning to end and his dark sense of humor works for Hansen’s sadistic nature. It’s the kind of movie villain that was plentiful through the ’80s and ’90s but that we sadly rarely see anymore. Hansen is evil and he loves it and Evans goes for it with abandon. He raises the overall film from quite bad to merely mediocre on his shoulders. That may not sound like a compliment but it most definitely is. Captain America himself would be impressed by that level of heavy lifting. Simply, Evans makes this watchable.

With an apparent production budget of $200 million, The Gray Man has been released straight to Netflix, adding to the overall feeling of “what was all of this for?” If you’re a fan of action films, spy thrillers, Ryan Gosling, or Ana de Armas, then there’s not much here for you. But if you like Chris Evans, throwback bad guys, and ’70s mustaches, then you’ll get something out of it amidst the issues.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply