The Gray Man Review: Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans Are Enough to Save This Loud and Derivative Spy Thriller
After spearheading the epic two-part finale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity Saga with Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), it makes sense that Anthony and Joe Russo find themselves as lost and unsure of where to go as the current slate of MCU storytelling does. There’s yet to be a film that’s proven their proclivity to think big and go bigger can hold its own when independent of the biggest franchise in the world. After all, the disappointment of their first post-Endgame film, Apple TV+’s Cherry (2021), may have been a surprise to many, but less so when considering that big-budget blockbuster tactics would never have suited a harrowing drama about a war veteran with crippling PTSD who robs banks to pay for an equally crippling opioid addiction. Following things up with The Gray Man (2022) on Netflix, it’s clear that the two are starting to figure things out, but they’ve still got ways to go.
An adaptation of Mark Greaney’s book series starring Court Gentry, a covert assassin for the CIA better known as Sierra Six, The Gray Man stars Ryan Gosling as Gentry, who’s commuted from prison by one of the agency’s head honchos, Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) during the film’s prologue. Almost eighteen years later, Sierra Six is the last remaining member of his unit and Fitzroy has been replaced by a younger, less caring and more calculating hotshot (Regé-Jean Page). The familiar beats are as strong as they are unoriginal from there, especially after a particular job results in Six’s discovery of some of his superiors’ reputation-ruining secrets, forcing him on the run with the safety of Fitzroy and his niece (Julia Butters) compromised, and with a sociopathic contract killer (Chris Evans) hot on his tail.
That’s not to say The Gray Man’s lack of freshness doesn’t make it exciting. The film’s action sequences are a spectacle to say the least, a product of European location shooting and the Russos’ natural inclination to go balls-to-the-wall with their staging of events as Six fends for himself with a bounty on his head and few allies other than Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) to help him. Between a thrilling escape from a crashing plane and a midpoint shootout along the streets of Prague, it’s clear there isn’t a set piece the siblings haven’t enjoyed concocting. Realism may not be on their radars, and the occasional first-draft quip from Six or Evans’ Lloyd Hansen may not always find itself welcome within the disarray, but there’s enough charisma emanating from the directors to keep everything afloat. Plus, quick flashes of a hospital overflowing with injured Czech civilians open the second half of the film with a sure indication that not even the zaniest of the Russos’ finely-tuned action is without consequence, a sobering reminder as the world continues to confront devastation that could very well be avoided should government influence be exercised without personal interests getting in the way.
Perhaps more unfortunate for The Gray Man is that its characters are just as much a form of collateral damage as any innocent bystander may be, especially to a script that provides them with little for audiences to dissect and never truly makes the stakes of the narrative feel personal amidst the explosive dissonance. Granted, Gosling and Evans are more than qualified for the joyous task of playing up their characters’ most ridiculous extremities, with Evans in particular finding some compelling incoherence between Hansen’s intelligence, ruthlessness, and childlike pettiness to offset Gosling’s death-cheating straight man. He drinks in his scenery with a cocktail of malice and absurdity in a performance as reminiscent of Dennis Hopper in Speed (1994) as it is Dennis Hopper in Waterworld (1992). Neither Hansen nor Six feels completely believable themselves, but it’s a feather in the caps of the actors playing them that their dichotomous behaviors make everything happening around them feel palatable, so much so that one has to wonder to what extent the film is a subtle mockery of the stereotypes they fill the screen with.
Nevertheless, the two headliners would’ve made for quite the odd couple had The Gray Man actually provided them with any kind of backstory to make their confrontation feel all the more tense and purposeful. The lack of history between Six and Hansen is at once a major injustice and an empty promise in what amounts to a film let down by the limited amount of screen time that’s actually shared between its leads. Although, this would be an even larger issue if the film weren’t doing the same to the rest of its impressive ensemble. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely aren’t shy about leaving plenty of space for the cast to leave a mark on their respective roles, but omit any form of significance for them in the process. de Armas and Tamil actor Dhanush (in his Hollywood debut) are provided little else besides a few moments of exemplary action choreography, whereas Thornton and Alfre Woodard, who makes a whole lot out of her very small role, share a complicated history as Six’s mentors that’s only ever hinted at and never disclosed to a satisfying degree.
The Gray Man is often too proud of what it does right to notice it’s doing anything wrong. All that pomp and circumstance comes with a limit when the film simply coasts from set piece to set piece, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had. However, given the talent involved both on screen and off, it’s an experience that sadly lacks purpose, and if the Russos are ever able to strike gold again, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see this film fall by the wayside. For as much time as Six spends in the film wondering how someone in his line of business settles down for retirement, how ironic it is that his directorial handlers haven’t quite figured out what to do with the next part of their lives, either.
The Gray Man (2022) Movie Summary & Plot Synopsis:
Spoilers for The Gray Man ahead!
What is the Sierra Program?
The film opens in 2003 with Court Gentry serving a prison sentence for murder. Visited by Donald Fitzroy of the CIA, Gentry is offered the chance to join the Sierra Program, a highly secretive unit of covert operatives comprised of former criminals whose identities remain unknown to both the agency and one another. Knowing that, at only 23 years old, Gentry still has decades before his time is up, Fitzroy agrees to serve as his handler and promises him a commuted sentence in exchange for his services as an assassin for the CIA. Gentry agrees, but ponders how long he will have to remain in service of the agency and if he will ever be allowed to retire, to which Fitzroy does not respond.
The film then shifts to Bangkok, Thailand eighteen years later, where Gentry, now identified solely by his call sign “Sierra Six,” is carrying out a hit alongside his partner, Dani Miranda, during a New Year’s celebration. Fitzroy has since been forced to retire and Six is the last remaining asset of the now-defunct Sierra Program, making him a point of contention for his new handler, the devious and immoral Denny Carmichael. Although Six manages to obtain a clear shot for his target, he decides not to take it after a child gets in the way, greatly upsetting Carmichael, who favors a quick job with additional casualties if necessary. Chasing his target on foot, Six manages to subdue him while Miranda incapacitates his security. Before Six can kill the man, however, he reveals himself as “Sierra Four,” revealing to Six that Carmichael had been secretly planning the disposal of all Sierra operatives before giving Six a thumb drive containing damning information on Carmichael in his dying moments.
How is Six Found Out?
Six sends the thumb drive’s contents to Fitzroy and his other former handler, Margaret Cahill (Woodard) before arranging for passage out of Thailand. Fitzroy and his teenage niece, Claire, are eventually kidnapped by Lloyd Hansen, a rogue mercenary and torture specialist on Carmichael’s payroll who is out to retrieve the thumb drive before any of the information is revealed. Placing them in a mansion in Croatia, Hansen repeatedly tortures Fitzroy for information pertaining to Six and the thumb drive, and threatens Claire on numerous occasions, much to the disapproval of Carmichael’s right-hand agent, Suzanne Brewer (Jessica Henwick), whom he had sent to oversee Hansen’s operation. Fitzroy is forced to give up Six’s location and has him trapped on a cargo plane with a team of other mercenaries. However, Six manages to overpower their attempts to kill him, escaping the plane as it crashes near Germany.
What is Six’s Connection to the Fitzroys?
Flashbacks reveal that Fitzroy became Claire’s guardian following her parents’ deaths, and that the two were the closest thing Six had to a family following his employment by the CIA. Six had previously been assigned to protect Claire, who suffers from a heart condition and requires a pacemaker, while Fitzroy left town for a few days. Though the two struggled to see eye to eye at first, Six eventually earned Claire’s trust after he brought her to the hospital following a malfunction with her pacemaker, and after he saved her from an assailant who had broken into their home during the night.
How Does Six Plan to Find the Fitzroys?
Returning to the present, Six makes his way to Berlin following the plane crash, where he meets with document forger Laszlo Sosa (Wagner Moura), planning to use the serial number of Claire’s pacemaker to locate the Fitzroys. Before he is able to do so, however, Sosa traps him in a hole, hoping to receive money for the bounty Hansen placed on Six’s head. Hansen arrives with his team and quickly kills Sosa before descending upon Six. Six, having built a makeshift bomb to break the building’s water lines and flood the hole to the top, escapes Hansen’s grasp after Miranda, having been fed up with Carmichael herself, arrives to help him.
What’s On the Thumb Drive?
The pair arrive in Prague to find Cahill, who is also retired and dying from terminal cancer. Having cracked the thumb drive’s codes, Cahill reveals to the pair that Carmichael’s dirty history with the CIA includes unauthorized deaths and instances of terror that were conducted with his knowledge and remained unsanctioned by the agency. They are eventually discovered by Hansen’s team, who storm Cahill’s apartment as Six and Miranda escape with the thumb drive. Cahill stays behind to hold Hansen off, which she does by blowing up her residence at the cost of her life.
Six is eventually cornered by Czech police officers, who handcuff him to a park bench before being killed during a shootout with various mercenary teams that had all arrived to collect the bounty on Six. Once again, Six eventually manages to escape and reconvenes with Miranda before heading to a hospital crowded with injured civilians to obtain the serial number for Claire’s pacemaker. It’s during this time that Six reveals to Miranda that he originally went to prison for murdering his abusive father, which he did to avenge the physial and emotional pain he inflicted on both Six and his younger brother. He tells her he doesn’t regret doing it, as he knows his brother may have died if he did not intervene, but instead regrets the life it led him to lead. While the two get a location on the Fitzroys, they are ambushed by Avik San (Dhanush), one of Hansen’s hired guns, who steals the thumb drive and makes for Hansen’s base of operations in Croatia.
How Does Six Defeat Hansen?
Deciding to go after Hansen themselves, Six infiltrates the Croatian mansion while Miranda takes out various security members as his sniper before obtaining the thumb drive from San, who willingly hands it over to her after growing disillusioned with Hansen and Carmichael’s lack of honor. Six manages to rescue Fitzroy and Claire and leads them to the roof of the mansion, where Fitzroy is shot by enemy fire. Promising to take care of Claire, Six escapes with her by jumping off the roof into a neighboring pond while Fitzroy sets off a hand grenade to deter Hansen’s team, killing himself in the process.
Having survived the explosion, Hansen tracks down Six and holds Claire hostage in a nearby hedge maze. Six convinces Hansen to let Claire go, assuring him that their fight should remain between the two of them only, and Claire makes her way out of the maze to Miranda as Six and Hansen square off. Six gains the upper hand at first, but Hansen fights back after pulling a knife, putting Six in a lock and attempting to drown him. Six recalls an old memory of his father attempting to drown him, as well, and finds the courage to take Hansen down. However, just as he is about to finish Hansen off, Brewer arrives at the scene and shoots Hansen dead.
The Gray Man (2022) Ending Explained: Does Six Get to Retire?
Are The Thumb Drive’s Contents Revealed?
Following Hansen’s death, Brewer shoots Six in the leg and continues to hold him at gunpoint, making him promise not to leak any of the thumb drive’s information to the public. Given the history Brewer and Carmichael share as former classmates and friends of Hansen’s, revealing their shady dealings and their knowledge of his actions would not only destroy their careers, but would also have the potential to lead to the agency’s downfall. Six complies before collapsing and being taken by paramedics to an underground recovery center beneath CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where he remains under close surveillance. The thumb drive is later destroyed.
Two weeks later, the devastation in Prague remains a topic of interest to the world at large, but an investigative committee ultimately acquits Brewer and Carmichael of any wrongdoing related to the incident, placing the blame firmly on Hansen. Having been subservient to Carmichael for most of her career, Brewer threatens to leak their secrets herself if any harm comes to Claire, a threat previously made by Miranda in exchange for her compliance. The two come to the understanding that keeping Six under heavy guard may be the only way to guarantee their secrets never go public, but upon entering the recovery center, they discover that Six is no longer there and all of the security guards watching him have been incapacitated.
Where is Six?
The film’s final sequence sees Claire holed up at a CIA safehouse, where she, too, remains under heavy guard. Entering her bedroom, she finds a record player and a note asking her to play the accompanying record loudly. Once the song — Mark Lindsay’s “Silver Bird,” a song Claire and Six bonded over during their time together — begins, Claire hears a car approach the house and watches as the guards standing post outside begin to fall one-by-one to an unknown presence. Distressed by this turn of events, she closes her eyes and covers her ears as the stranger continues to fight off her security. Finally reaching her room, this stranger is revealed to be Six, who had escaped from Langley. Overjoyed to see him, Claire rushes into his arms and the reunited pair leave the safehouse together for an unknown future.