Ryan Gosling’s cinematic stoicism has long been a potent weapon. Drive, the tense 2011 thriller in which he plays an anonymous stunt driver who is cool behind the wheel but monosyllabic in conversation, is one of his most enduring roles. During his role as Officer K in Blade Runner 2049, he was designed to be emotionless, a “replicant.” When it came to portraying astronaut Neil Armstrong in First Man, director Damien Chazelle characterized him as prickly and standoffish. That said, each of those films included a complex character and genuine story stakes, and an internal peculiarity that he couldn’t help but deal with. “The Gray Man,” his latest starring role on Netflix’s action blockbuster, lacks all of that.
This is Gosling’s second time portraying a character without a name, this time the CIA assassin known only as “Sierra Six,” who kills with brutal efficiency. The Russo brothers directed the film, which is based on a best-selling novel from 2009 and has a long list of credits to its name: Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Billy Bob Thornton, Regé-Jean Page, and Alfre Woodard are just a few of the stars who have joined Ryan Gosling in the Marvel flicks directed by the brothers. The Gray Man, on the other hand, is nothing more than a succession of set pieces and snappy quips that are entirely devoid of character. Gosling’s charismatic on-screen attitude is what makes the actor so memorable.
When I think of Brad Pitt, I think of Thelma and Louise and his chiseled features, which made him famous in the early ’90s. Even in epics like A River Runs Through It and Interview With the Vampire, Brad Pitt comes across as a generic handsome kid, making it difficult for Hollywood to find strong leading-man roles for him to play. Instead, he was a standout in 12 Monkeys and True Romance as a supporting cast member. David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, and Steven Soderbergh were among the directors who helped Brad Pitt find the parts that worked best for him in their films. Oddball characters, attractive men who seemed uncomfortable with their God-given features were the hallmarks of their stories.
Several of my favorite Ryan Gosling roles have a similar feel to them. There are many different types of characters he has played: the quiet hero of films like “Drive,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and “First Man,” as well as the bumbling and overconfident private detective Holland March in “The Nice Guys,” the scumbag trader Jared Vennett in “The Big Short,” and the sweet but awkward Lars in “Lars and the Real Girl.” The Gray Man brought back to mind his role as a do-gooder cop in Gangster Squad, which was his least fascinating role. A government-trained murderer, Six, has a sinister tinge to him. The Russos, on the other hand, make it clear right away that he’s a moral spy at heart. In the first mission, Six hesitates to fire at his target because a child is nearby; as his handlers force him to stop worrying about collateral damage and he discovers corruption in the unit, he swiftly turns rogue.
For the next two hours, prepare yourself for nonstop car chases around Europe. Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), an ex-spy turned kill guy, pursues him from Vienna to Prague to London in six hops as he lacks his quarry’s ethical principles. With Hansen’s role as a smug braggart who can’t stop gushing about his Harvard degree, Evans, another square-jawed marquee idol, gets to have some fun. Six’s lack of personality is all Gosling has to work with. With his “gray man” training from the government, the majority of the movie is spent glowering and mumbling when he’s not thrown into another CGI-powered combo of sprinting, jumping, and shooting.
In the cruelst twist, Gosling’s good looks allow him to pull it off. A gorgeous face is always entertaining, even in the most cringe-worthy films, and Hollywood has long been known for its talent in this area. Instead of making Six uncomfortable with the dashing super-spy archetype that he’s been sculpted into for his whole adult life, The Gray Man could have succeeded. In Moneyball, Pitt portrays Billy Beane, a baseball general manager who was projected to be a celebrity athlete because of his all-American looks, and I enjoy that tension in Pitt’s performance.
Unlike the other characters, there is nothing to discover inside of the Gray Man. Six’s mission is to defeat Lloyd Hansen, evade his pursuers, and rescue Claire (Julia Butters), the niece of his master Fitzroy, from the clutches of Lloyd and his henchmen (Thornton). As a prelude to upcoming sequels and lavish production costs, the film has smoothed over all of its rougher edges. Gosling must have made a tidy sum from this project. Because of his lack of passion in his steely charm, he provides the all-purpose steely charm needed of him in exchange.