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In ‘The Gray Man,’ it’s lawyers, guns, and money, only without the lawyers and money

The Netflix action thriller, starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, offers a lot more action than thrills

Ryan Gosling in "The Gray Man."Stanislav Honzik/Netflix via AP

“The Gray Man” is the most expensive production in Netflix history. The budget is reported to have been in the vicinity of $200 million. Per bullet fired, that makes the movie a bargain. If you’ve long wanted to see Prague’s Old Town shot up in an epic gun fight, “The Gray Man” is what you’ve been waiting for. By any other measure, no, a bargain it’s not.

The Russo brothers (“Avengers: Infinity War,” “Avengers: Endgame”) directed. The movie’s based on the 2009 novel by Mark Greaney. “The Gray Man” starts streaming Friday. It’s also at a few suburban theaters.


Ryan Gosling plays the title character. Six is a good-guy CIA hit man, or as good a guy as a hit man can be, who’s being chased by a bad-guy CIA hit man. (Unlike Six, he works on contract — welcome to the gig economy.) “Chased” is an understatement. Beside a bullet-riddled Prague, other locales include Baku, Bangkok, Berlin, Croatia, Hong Kong, Langley (of course), London, Vienna, and Washington, D.C. The portion of that $200 million not spent on bullets clearly went to the travel budget. Or topline salaries: Chris Evans plays Gosling’s nemesis. “The Gray Man” is mano-a-mano, starpower-wise.

Chris Evans and Jessica Henwick in "The Gray Man."Paul Abell/Netflix © 2022

Gosling is stoical. Playing a character designated by a number will do that to an actor. Six chews on a toothpick as he carries out an assignment. He also chews gum and at least twice winks in inappropriate situations, but that’s more in the way of keeping up with the leaden jauntiness of much of the dialogue.

Evans is maniacal. His character, Lloyd Hansen, is a truly frightening combination: a sociopath who’s a chatterbox and went to Harvard. Lloyd is eee-vil and revels in it. It’s easy to understand Evans’s very evident pleasure in playing Lloyd. The character is a bad-boy version of Steve Rogers. Very bad (the Russos also directed the last two “Captain America” movies). Instead of carrying a trademark shield, this Captain Un-America wears a trademark mustache. It resembles a caterpillar trying to sneak into a disco. Lloyd is like a cross between G. Gordon Liddy and the Kevin Kline character in “A Fish Called Wanda.” The comparison does not flatter any of those parties.


Billy Bob Thornton in "The Gray Man."Paul Abell/Netflix via AP

Another way to tell that Six is good and Lloyd is bad is the company they keep. Six has two protectors, retired senior agency officials played by Billy Bob Thornton and Alfre Woodard. Thornton, who’s graying quite nicely (he should be the title character) is fine. Woodard is even more stoical than Gosling, though at least she does it with a glint in her narrowed eyes.

Regé-Jean Page and Ana de Armas in "The Gray Man." Paul Abell/Netflix via AP

Hansen’s overseers — not that he ever follows anyone’s orders — are two senior agency officials a mite too eager to become even more senior, if you catch my drift. They’re played by Regé-Jean Page (“Bridgerton”) and Jessica Henwick (“Game of Thrones,” “The Matrix Resurrections”). Page brings an impressive inauthenticity to his role. You dislike him not just because his character’s bad but because he comes across as so phony. It’s hard to make a line like “You’re cleared for collateral; go loud” sound more fake than it already is. Page does so. In fairness, Evans doesn’t exactly cook with gas when he snarls, “Hit this meatball like a freight train. And turn on cams. I want pay per view.” Henwick fares better, but that’s mainly because she’s the one teeing up most of Evans’s quips.


Ana de Armas plays a CIA operative who starts out on one side and ends up on the other. She gets to repeat some of her UFC moves from “No Time to Die,” last fall’s James Bond movie. Otherwise she’s mostly wasted.

Julia Butters and Ryan Gosling in "The Gray Man."Paul Abell/Netflix via AP

Also on hand is Julia Butters, who made such an impression as the child actress in “Once Upon a Time in . . . Hollywood.” Playing the niece of Thornton’s character, she alternates between poutiness, which makes sense since she’s a teenager, and terrified, which makes sense since “The Gray Man” can get pretty nasty. How nasty? There are not one but two torture scenes, the second of which is pretty explicit.

“The Gray Man” is highly implausible. That’s not necessarily a problem. What action movie isn’t? It’s also increasingly ridiculous. Played for laughs, the Prague shoot-out might work. But it isn’t, so instead of inducing thrills it produces unintentional eye rolls. Far worse, the movie feels increasingly tired. All that gunplay, all that traveling, all that sneering from Lloyd: Everything gets a bit . . . much.

The Russos have said they’re holding out hopes for a Netflix “Gray Man” franchise. Greaney has written a dozen novels in the series, so the material’s there. That no doubt accounts for the several major plot threads left hanging. That, or sheer exhaustion, an explanation that might make even more sense. Maybe it’s not just viewers who end up feeling so tired.




Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Written by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely; based on the novel by Mark Greaney. Starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Billy Bob Thornton, Regé-Jean Page, Jessica Henwick, Julia Butters. Streaming on Netflix. 122 minutes. PG-13 (strong violence, strong language — sorry, it should be an R — hello, TORTURE! — as well as the most promiscuous screen use of semi-automatic weapons seen in a long time, though not long enough).

Mark Feeney can be reached at