Merciless action, weak story


The director duo Russo brothers who brought you Avengers and Captain America, brings you the biggest action blockbuster of the year, The Gray Man. When I say the “biggest” I mean it in quite the literal sense because despite the movie being an Netflix original, meaning the ordinary cinema goer is deprived of witnessing this huge bundle of action being unpacked on the big screen, it comes with quite the hefty budget tag – US$ 200 million to be exact – which puts it above the Dwayne Johnson’s Red Notice and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman to be the most expensive Netflix movie to be made to date.

I mean I get it, producing a movie running just over two hours in this day and age and an action movie at that, is not that easy a task given the Hollywood has already tried almost every ‘action’ trick in the book in terms of keeping the audience hooked to the movie, so to try something new or to go bigger (which in action movies considered to be better) costs money. Plus, the movie’s cast also is a stellar one so their pay checks too must have eaten up quite the budget. However, the biggest question is, did the coin flip with the hefty budget and experienced directors do the trick or did the movie end up being a flop like some of the recent big-budget action movies such as Jurassic World Dominion and The Matrix Resurrections? Let’s find out. 

An overused plot

The story centres on Six – a skilled undercover CIA operative who at the beginning of the movie was serving a prison sentence for murder. He was recruited by a handler from the CIA called Fitzroy who offers Six a get out of a jail free card as long as he comes and works under CIA to ‘kill bad people’. This premise of the movie alone is a story that has been so over-used in Hollywood that I was surprised to see how little effort was put into sell this story to the viewer. Perhaps the creators were under the impression that the stellar cast will make up for the lack of a convincing premise or the fact that the screenplay of the movie which is an adaption from a book will make up for it but in reality, it didn’t. I’m pretty sure the original book would have at least had some interesting dialogues between Six and Fitzroy in the scene where Fitzroy tries to convince Six to join CIA but in the movie, Six needed very little convincing.

Fast forward, Six eventually becomes CIA’s best undercover asset but during one particular operation, things don’t go according to the plan. Six hesitates to pull the trigger and finds himself in hot waters and possession of some classified information which could ruin the career of the Head of Operations. In a self-preservation measure the Head of Operations (Carmichael) puts a kill order on Six’s head and the one who is called upon to execute the order is Lloyd Hansen – a former CIA operative turned private hired gun. With kidnapping, international hit men in action in multiple countries across Europe, and lots and lots of explosions adding flair to the story, it eventually arrives at the rather predictable end – with some casualties of course – that good prevails.

Non-stop action

With a plot so predictable and so over-used, the movie has nowhere else but action to turn towards to, in term of salvaging itself.  This means that you are guaranteed to have action before your eyes throughout the movie. If you are a fan of mindless action unravelling before your eyes while you rather mechanically shove popcorn in your mouth, this is just the movie for you. From start to the very end, the movie brings you action after action after action. Just when you think you have seen the biggest and the best action sequence in the movie, in the next few minutes you are proven wrong.

Just when you think you have seen a villain representing all the Eastern European countries you are treated to a new villain – a ‘sexy Indian’ villain – which is something new and unexpected of a Hollywood movie. But then again, Netflix has this habit of mixing ethnicities for inclusivity’s sake so I wouldn’t be that surprised if this trend to be continued. Kudos to Dhanush who played the villain’s role as he was rather convincing at delivering the kicks and punches. Despite having to fight a girl and not having the luxury of slow motion which is a commodity in Indian cinema, Dhanush did a really good job in his rather minor role and even delivered his lines without much of an accent.

Two-dimensional CGI

Is it just me or has Hollywood forgotten to put its thinking hat on when doing movie CGI as of late? This is a rather worrying trend identified by fans first in Marvel movies and now in other newly-released big-budget movies as well. The computer graphics for some reason, seem rather two-dimensional and to be blunt, a bit boring. All the Avengers movies were great but the Marvel movies came after the Avengers trilogy seem to have a bit died-down CGI – in particular, the latest Dr. Strange movie. Perhaps this is because Marvel has already captured the movie market and knows that even with below-par CGI the cinemas will be filled with fans but it really shouldn’t be an excuse.

It is rather understood to a certain extend that the CGI in the movies released to TV or streaming services are lesser in quality since they have relatively less budgets but that shouldn’t be the case in The Gray Man. With its hefty budget the movie should have come up with better CGI. I’m not saying the graphics are bad but as a whole, they aren’t that great, especially the scene in the cargo plane which felt unrealistic in particular.

Perhaps it would have been better to go for as many props as possible instead of going fully CGI.

Lots of improvising

It looks like the aspects of the movie we have probed into thus far have resulted in below-par results it is not as if the whole movie is a one big ‘meh’ movie – well it is for the most part but there are some areas in which the movie shows some progressive qualities, areas such as acting. With a quality cast consisting Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Rege Jean Page, and Billy Bob Thorton, it is really unsurprising the acting is something that one can look forward to in the movie, despite the script isn’t really offering many opportunities for this.

In a plot filled with action, room for some surprisingly good acting is made with – rather unsurprisingly – via improvisation. It is said that the scene where Sic and Lloyd is met for the first time was almost completely improvised by Gosling and Evans. Moreover, the directors have given the full authority to the actors to ‘go crazy’ with their improvisations as well, a wise call in hindsight because that has resulted in some good acting and some hilarious dialogues.

Doesn’t worth the double take

So what kind of a movie is The Gray Man? It is a movie you can enjoy, no doubt about that. It is a typical Friday night movie which you and all your friends can gather and watch together. If you are a fan of the Bollywood and Kollywood, then you can enjoy seeing one of your beloved South Indian movie stars featuring in a Hollywood movie.

Apart from some reasonably good acting, this is just another Hollywood action movie that tries to do a bit of everything. Blink and you will miss a lot of action and jokes but don’t worry, there are plenty more to come in the movie towards the very end. It is a bearable two hours of James Bond, Ethan Hunt, John Wick, Liam Nessen’s Taken, and Bruce Willis’ Die Hard combined, with a whole lot of clichés as well. It is not worth watching twice but for the sake of fun, I’d say give it a go because not every day you get to see a US$ 200 million action blockbuster.      

By Sanuj Hathurusinghe