I usually agree with the audience instead of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience rating usually comes from a visceral place—it’s more common sense-based and truthful. However, “The Gray Man” is currently rated at 50 by the critics, and 90 by the audience and, I have to say, I gotta go with the critics on this one. Although probably for very different reasons.
Here’s why: I’ve read the 2009 book the movie is based on by Mark Greaney, including the 10 other books in the series. The writing is stellar. Mark Greaney is the #1 NYT bestselling author and coauthor of seven Tom Clancy novels. That should tell you something. Greaney’s CIA agent Court Gentry is the only character these days who can handily out-Bourne Jason Bourne. He’s a next-level spy.
“The Gray Man” should have been a rugged, gritty, dark, hard-man movie, with top-notch martial arts butt-kicking (featuring Gentry’s weaponized style of jiu-jitsu), virtuoso sniping, realistic violence, magic-act-level showcasing of spy tradecraft sleight-of-hand, and joint operations involving elite, hardened military bearded tough guys. All of which should have been set on a rock-solid foundation of patriotism that the “quiet professionals,” who exclusively do these kinds of jobs, have. Because that’s who The Gray Man—Court Gentry—really is.
And what do we get instead? What did Hollywood decide to come up with? Let me see if I can sum it up succinctly: Denny Carmichael, the CIA head honcho of the books, is an older white male. You know what that means. The Woke-verse can’t have that. “Down with the patriarchy!!” So Carmichael’s here conceived of as a young black man, who apparently, at Harvard, had a homosexual affair with the lead protagonist hitman.
The dialogue of the two above-mentioned characters is … well, the best word for it that can be used in this publication would be snide. Furthermore, there’s a gratuitous shot of a rainbow-colored park bench; the movie is tonally all over the place but mostly with an unmistakable Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) feel. The soundtrack is fluffy pop and ABBA-flavored, and the colors are flamboyant. For example, at one point Gentry wears an all-red suit. Who wears an all-red suit? A more blatant movie misrepresentation of a book or series I’ve rarely seen. And just like I don’t want any sugar sprinkled on a plate of greasy-spoon diner steak and eggs, I prefer a warrior tale with no woke-ness and no all-red suits.
There’s a reason this CIA super-spy is known as “The Gray Man.” He’s supposed to be a ghost. Nobody notices him even when he’s right under their noses.
CIA assassin Gentry, call-sign Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling), has been unwittingly assigned to take out another operative from the Sierra program. Before dying, agent number Four (or was it Five?) gives Six a flash drive containing incriminating evidence on the aforementioned morally questionable Harvardian supervisor Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page). To prevent Six from doing anything with it, Carmichael brings in Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), his former sarcastic psychopathic lover, to hunt Six down.
Billy Bob Thornton plays Sir Donald Fitzroy, Six’s weary mentor. Sir Donald’s obviously British. Billy Bob can’t do a British accent and thankfully doesn’t try, but the raging fakeness of Billy Bob’s toupeé for a flashback scene is reason enough to avoid the entire movie.
Dani (Ana de Armas) is the very cute female colleague, and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s” Julia Butters plays Thornton’s character’s niece, whose sole job is to be in danger all the time.
Six globe-trots like the Roadrunner attempt to decrypt the flash drive while constantly shooting and duking it out with the snide Wiley E Coyote-like Lloyd Hansen. It’s an unfunny cartoon, basically. I was mildly amused twice. Like the MCU, chaotic proceedings blow up the screen every 10 seconds, but never engage you emotionally or intellectually.
So what’s the audience so excited about? My guess is 1) very few people have read the books, and 2) because “The Gray Man” is directed by the Russo’s (brothers Joe and Anthony) who worked on 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Infinity Saga,” “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018), and “Avengers: Endgame.”
Which is why Captain America (Chris Evans) plays the bad guy here. So if you love the MCU, and loads of cartoonish CGI violence where it’s really painful but everyone is completely fine 10 seconds later, then you’ll love “The Gray Man.”
If you’ve read the books, avoid the movie at all costs. If you haven’t read the books—read the books. It’s a whole summer’s worth of thoroughly engrossing page-turning.
‘The Gray Man’
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfre Woodard, Julia Butters, Regé-Jean Page
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release Date: July 22
Rating: 2 stars out of 5