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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Paul Whitington

The Gray Man movie review: Avengers directors mix Bond and Bourne to hilarious effect in Netflix thriller

Ryan Gosling plays a CIA assassin in The Gray Man

(15A, 129mins)

The Gray Man

Did you know that the Russo brothers are the second most commercially successful movie directors ever after Steven Spielberg?

Nor did I, but the mystery of how two brothers you’ve probably never heard of became such dominant market forces is solved when you realise they make Marvel pictures.

One of them, Avengers: Endgame, grossed almost $3bn worldwide, which will give you an idea of the numbers we’re dealing with.

But the Russos, in fairness, are not resting on their laurels and have moved on from the Marvel franchise to embrace the brave new world of streamed productions.

Joe and Anthony Russo have various irons in the fire with Amazon Prime, Disney and Universal, but it’s Netflix who back this action thriller which, it has to be said, wears its $200m budget lightly.

Based on a novel by Mark Greaney and co-written by Joe Russo and his regular Marvel collaborators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, The Gray Man opens in a prison interview room, where veteran CIA handler Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) engages with a man who’s clearly considered a dangerous felon.

Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) is a lifer, a murderer, but Fitzroy seems to have some sympathy for his situation, and offers him a one-time deal — he can walk out of prison right now if he agrees in return to become an off-the-books CIA assassin.

Bit of a no-brainer when you think about it and Gentry, under his new code name Sierra Six, quickly becomes the best in the business, rubbing out bad guys in all corners of the globe without so much as breaking sweat.

But when he’s sent to Bangkok to take out a supposed terrorist, the dying man reveals that he too was a CIA killer and someone higher up is trying to remove evidence of wrong-doing.

That would be Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), an unprincipled maniac responsible for all sorts of mayhem, who’s now covering his tracks.

But the dying assassin has given Six a file containing damning evidence of all Hansen’s crimes, and so a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues.

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In Six’s corner is Fitzroy, who will hold up under all sorts of unpleasantness. But Hansen, a psychopath with a bad moustache, has kidnapped Fitzroy’s beloved niece and will now hold both of them for ransom.

Six, meanwhile, has made the acquaintance of Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), a resourceful CIA agent who realises what Hansen’s up to and decides to help Six stop him.

The Gray Man is Bourne with a nod to Bond, part shoot-em-up video game, but also a kind of comedy — this last ingredient crucial to its success.

A decision has been made to go easy on the violence and give a sparkling screenplay some air. Six seems to be emotionally catatonic, but that doesn’t stop Gosling delivering caustic one-liners with a poker face.

And Evans is nothing short of hilarious as the gleefully evil Hansen. He laughs at those who seem shocked by his excesses, but his Achilles heel is a desire to be taken seriously, a task made harder by a strange quiff, that dodgy moustache and a regrettable tendency to wear loafers without socks.

Hansen has a nasty habit of insisting upon himself and acts out like a toddler when things don’t go according to plan. We already knew Evans could do comedy, thanks to that winning turn in Knives Out, but he really is superb here, even managing to make his character’s limp look funny.

The action sequences deliberately sail fair beyond the shores of credibility and resort too often to flashy CGI, but exotic locations are skilfully used and The Gray Man is a film that never makes the mistake of taking itself seriously.

It would have been nice if the character played by De Armas had been given a little more of a backstory, and Julia Butters, who plays Fitzroy’s niece, is excellent but underused.

The Gray Man is a lot of fun, however, and worth seeing in a cinema before its impending streamed release.

Rating: Three stars

The Railway Children Return is knowingly retro

The Railway Children Return

(PG, 98mins)

Much loved, though not by me, Lionel Jeffries’ 1970 film The Railway Children was a staple on British television in the 1970s and 80s, and had a certain naive charm.

Exiled to Yorkshire following their diplomat father’s fall from grace, a trio of Boer War-era children led by Bobbie (Jenny Agutter) performed heroic deeds by the railway tracks and bonded with the locals.

Agutter returns as a much older and wryer Bobbie in this amiable sequel set during the Second World War.

Sent to Yorkshire by their mother to escape the Luftwaffe’s assault on Manchester, Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Pattie (Eden Hamilton) and Ted (Zac Cudby) struggle to fit in, especially at school.

But Lily and co find a purpose when they discover a wounded African-American soldier (Kenneth Aikens) hiding in an abandoned railway carriage.

The Railway Children Return is knowingly retro and may baffle young cinemagoers used to faster editing and more action. But the young cast are engaging and older viewers might find comfort in its easy pace and moral certainties.

Rating: Three stars

Javier Bardem is at his comical best in The Good Boss

The Good Boss

(15A, 120mins)

Though his expertise is seldom called on, Javier Bardem is a fine comic actor, and he’s at his very best in Fernando León de Aranoa’s sharp and elegant satire.

On the face of it, Julio Blanco (Bardem) is a good boss, the suave and affable chief executive of a busy factory that makes industrial scales.

He regularly addresses his workers, praising their efforts and exhorting them to still greater heights as the company is now in the running for a prestigious industry award.

But all is not as it seems, for Julio is the kind of bloodless corporate cut-throat who would make Machiavelli blush, happy to use his second-in-command’s marital difficulties to undermine him, and even happier to go chasing after every long-legged female intern that shows up.

The latest of these, however, will be more than a match for him, for Liliana (Almudena Amor) is every bit as ruthless as Julio.

Add a one-man strike that threatens to frustrate his bid to win that award and you have a boss on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Thanks in large part to Bardem, Julio’s slow implosion is very funny.

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