DUBAI: Action-thriller “The Gray Man” cost Netflix a reported $200 million, making it the streaming giant’s most expensive film yet. As each slickly executed international set-piece blows by, it’s tempting to try and work out how many subscribers were needed to pay for any particular scene. The hit in a glamorous Bangkok nightclub; a last-ditch escape from an on-fire airplane; the central (admittedly awesome) Prague firefight complete with a derailed tram… Are you not entertained?
Well, yes. And no. Directors the Russo brothers bring their considerable blockbuster pedigree to bear on this high-adrenaline visual cacophony, throwing everything they can at a by-the-numbers conspiracy-thriller screenplay that seems tailor-made for a video-game adaptation. Who needs emotional connection when there are this many bullets flying?
Ryan Gosling is “The Gray Man” of the title — codename Sierra Six, a freelance assassin who does work so dirty not even the CIA — who recruited him out of prison (he killed his abusive father, but only to protect his brother; he’s a good guy really) — can afford to have a paper trail of it. But when one of Sierra’s dying targets hands him an encrypted memory stick, that’s pretty much what’s on it: Proof of atrocities sanctioned by the agency. So the CIA gives evil mercenary Lloyd Hansen carte blanche (and an unlimited budget) to kill Sierra and retrieve it. Cue teams of hired assassins chasing our hero across Asia and Europe.
If you enjoyed Gosling’s deliberately downbeat performance in “Drive,” then you’ll love him here. His face remains practically emotionless throughout the film, even when getting stabbed. To be fair, he’s still a charismatic hero that will have you rooting for him.
Evans, in contrast, does just about all the acting he can think of, often in a single scene, in his chew-the-scenery, psycho-killer bad-guy routine as Lloyd Hansen — a man whose love of himself is outdone only by his love of too-tight sports-casual clothing. As two-dimensional screen villains go, he’s pretty good — trading blows and snarky quips with Sierra in equal measure.
This is an efficient action film, efficiently executed. Provided you’re willing — and have enough knowledge of the genre — to flesh out the stuff that the writers have given the thinnest of outlines, then it’s a fun, if instantly forgettable, couple of hours packed with thrills but not heart.