‘The Gray Man’ is a $200 million homework assignment

What makes a good action movie? If you asked the Russo Brothers, veterans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they could tell you that the surest way to enter the pantheon of great action cinema is to stuff your film with so many drone shots of cities non-American as possible, then superimpose the name of the city – in big white letters of course – on each of them.

Or at least it’s hard to imagine them offering any other response after watching their latest offering, an insanely expensive spy thriller called The gray man, which was released on Netflix this weekend. The film follows Six (Ryan Gosling), a witty and charming CIA assassin with a heart of gold who ends up on the run from his own masters after being sent on a mission that reveals his world is not what he wants. it seems and blah blah blah blah blah frankly who gives a damn? Trying to explain what this movie is about is a complete waste of time because clearly no one who made it really cares, so why should you? The film is a pastiche of plot points and settings taken from every popular action movie made in the last 20 or so years, and so if you’ve seen bits of Bourne, James Bond, John Wick or Mission Impossible franchises, you’ve seen a better version of this movie. There’s a betrayed hero desperately trying to survive while uncovering the truth, a sexy woman who still has her back, and an endless stream of grim-faced assassins ready to do close combat with the two. There is of course a precocious child who needs rescuing and lots of ironic banter. God, there is so many to joke.

There is a different version of this movie in which all of this could be forgiven. No one is necessarily looking for a big-budget action movie to reinvent the wheel, and if anyone wants to throw a ton of cash behind a script that’s been Frankenstein among other entries in the genre and an eminently charming cast, then I say go crazy. It’s a trash can flavor that I won’t hesitate to drink. Where The gray man fails not in its lack of originality, but in its rickety construction. Netflix and the Russo Brothers may have created a decent setting for a successful action movie, but then they forgot to, you know, put a movie in there.

Which brings us back to all those cute drone shots. The characters in this film travel around the world at such a rate that concepts like time and space cease to matter, and one gets the distinct impression that the primary concern of the people who made this film was to make sure everyone who watches it understands how much money it cost to win. There are, I don’t know, a dozen different action sets spread across more cities than I care to count, and yet The gray man manages to be one of the most boring movies I’ve seen this year. Each sequence comes and goes, carried away almost immediately by the next. Any good spy thriller depends on its sequencing; every explosion, shootout, betrayal, and reveal must be carefully sorted and layered in a way that builds tension and momentum on a regular basis. If watching a Mission Impossible movie is like discovering a tasting menu, with each course building anticipation for the next, then watching The gray man it’s as if all the trays from an all-you-can-eat buffet are dumped on your table at once, to which the Russo Brothers walk up and shout, Eat it, pigs!

Another thing that makes a good action movie is being able to actually see and understand what’s going on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film more committed to hiding its action from the public. All other combat scenes are obscured by smoke from an explosion, smoke from a fire, blinding sunrise, strobe flashlight, smoke from a lit rocket, and even smoke from a barrage of industrial fireworks. There’s fog and haze everywhere, and so many cuts between punches and kicks that I imagine nausea could be an issue for anyone watching it in a theater. And then there’s the lack of editing and scene composition, which makes it nearly impossible to figure out where one character stands in relation to the others during the film’s biggest action sequences. At one point, our villain, Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), says, “My God, how hard is it to shoot someone?” during a seemingly never-ending scene in which about twenty gunmen shoot Six as he is handcuffed to a bench in a public square. I was wondering the same thing!

What the Russo Brothers don’t seem to understand is that it’s not the number of cities our hero sets foot in, or the number of gunfights, or even the size of the explosions that makes a great movie. stock. It’s the little details. It’s the anguished look that appears on Miles Tellers’ face when the real fighter plane he’s in hits five Gs; they are the traces of blood that John McClane’s glass-riddled feet leave on a skyscraper window; it’s the brief moment when Tom Cruise stops to roll his eyes wearily before tackling his opponent through a bathroom wall. It’s all the things that not only make an action movie feel tactile, but also feel like something that’s been created with a level of care and attention.

In The gray man, the Russo Brothers eschewed all attention to detail in favor of more and more badly-blocked and edited action sequences, each of them imbued with a jarring amount of weird CGI (perhaps that’s what all the fuss is about). smoke was trying to obscure). In the first half hour, you can see Gosling “jump” out of an exploding plane, at which point he transforms into a plastic, stretchy CGI recreation, then, blurred by smoke and computer-generated debris. , bounces off a bad guy’s parachute like a video game character. All of this made me feel like I was watching something that was done the night before, hastily and sloppily. I probably should have turned it off then.

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