Netflix's Spy Thriller 'The Gray Man' Is Peak Wannabe Blockbuster

The Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans showdown is undone by corny banter and underwhelming action.


“I get it: you’re glib,” says Billy Bob Thornton’s CIA handler Donald Fitzroy in the opening scene of The Gray Man, Netflix’s latest attempt at an action blockbuster. In the moment, he’s talking to a younger, rougher version of the titular gray man, a criminal-turned-government-assassin played with the expected amount of slight remove and arch cockiness by Ryan Gosling. But, really, Fitzroy could be talking to any character in this often exhausting spy thriller, a movie that reimagines the most ruthless operators in the world as chatty quip-machines straight off the Marvel assembly line. To put it in the reference-heavy parlance of The Gray Man: It’s The Cringe Ultimatum, baby.

Instead of memory loss, Gosling’s Court Gentry (codename: Sierra Six, or “Six” for short) must contend with a traumatic past and a shadow-strewn bureaucracy that wants him dead. After taking out one of his fellow trained killers in a balloon-filled opening set piece, he learns that his shaky-sounding program is being permanently decommissioned and he’s now the new target of a Harvard-educated CIA command-chain climber named Denny Carmichel (RegĂ©-Jean Page). More importantly to the movie’s poster and streaming thumbnail, Denny has recruited Lloyd Hansen, a boorish and sadistic military contractor played by Chris Evans, to finish the job. In theory, that should let Gosling and Evans, a gun-toting Ken doll and a conniving Captain America, engage in some hunky spy games.


Who is responsible for this exercise in Funko Pop Michael Mann aesthetics? The Gray Man was directed and produced by Anthony and Joe Russo, the brother team responsible for Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Captain America: Civil War, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Working from a script credited to Joe and Marvel collaborators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, adapted from a 2009 novel by Mark Greaney, the filmmaking duo have applied their bag of tricks (an always roving camera, a brisk sense of pace, and, when in doubt, very loud assault weapon fire on the soundtrack) to one of Hollywood’s most reliable non-superhero tentpole templates. On paper – or, perhaps more accurately, on a balance sheet – it sounds like a sure thing. There’s a great tweet about how Marvel makes two kinds of movies: spacey sci-fi ones for stoners and “the hat ones.” Despite not being a Marvel movie, The Gray Man is very much a Hat Movie and the Russos remain the key auteurs of Hat Cinema.

That means you get lots of terse phone calls, a surprisingly brutal torture scene, and plenty of moments where guys jump through windows. In addition to Thornton, plenty of gifted actors are called in to deliver exposition and keep Gosling tumbling from one shoot-out to the next. Ana de Armas, one of the best parts of No Time to Die, gets reduced to a predominantly thankless sidekick role as a fellow CIA agent; Jessica Henwick, a jolting presence in last year’s Matrix sequel, is stuck behind a desk scowling at Evans for most of the film; the brilliant Alfre Woodard and Tamil cinema star Dhanush have even less to do as a legendary CIA handler and an elite hitman, respectively. From the impressive feats of casting to the beautiful international locations to the clearly immense vehicle destruction budget for the chase sequences, one increasingly gets the sense that the filmmakers have sacrificed specificity for scale. The film lacks the slick immediacy and visceral punch of Extraction, the Chris Hemsworth starring streaming hit the Russos produced for Netflix a few years back. Compared to the soaring action filmmaking feats of this year’s Top Gun: Maverick, Ambulance, or RRR, The Gray Man is content with shooting itself in the foot.

As much as Netflix clearly wants Gosling’s Six to be their answer to Ethan Hunt or James Bond, the movie itself will more likely remind you of 2021’s similarly expensive (and bloated) Netflix extravaganza Red Notice. The banter here isn’t quite as excruciating, but there’s a similar hollowness, a near pathological need to undercut the potential for genuine suspense or tension with a not-so-clever aside or a Babe joke. (The Evans character, a bro-ey take on Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive outfitted with a flattop and a moustache, is guilty of delivering some of the biggest groaners.) At one point, Gosling’s Six survives a CG-assisted fall from a burning plane and gets a phone call where he’s asked “Where are you?” and he responds, “Emotionally? I’ve been better.” Out of context, the line might not sound especially glib, and it would probably float by in a Marvel movie, but it’s a decent example of why it feels like the executive team behind this production was ordered to initiate Mission: Impossible – Dork Protocol. Like the actual CIA, Netflix has seemingly perfected the art of funneling money into mostly useless assets.

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He’s on Twitter @danielvjackson.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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