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“The Gray Man” Review: Ryan Gosling’s Over-the-Top New Movie Doesn’t Hook the Way “Extraction” Did
Watching The Gray Man , Netflix’s latest action-packed thriller that starts streaming this Friday, July 22, made me realize how much I had missed Ryan Gosling. The actor hasn’t been seen on the screen in any new projects since the 2018 release of the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man .
In The Gray Man , Gosling plays Six. He was recruited while serving in jail, his sentence commuted in exchange for his services. He was trained by the CIA and his job is to kill bad guys. When, after 18 years on the gig, a mission goes bad in Bangkok, he realizes he may well be the next target of the opaque governmental organization that hired him. So he makes himself scarce. That doesn’t mean they won’t come after him.
The movie is based on the book of the same name by Mark Greaney , the first in a series of international espionage thriller novels. Working partners and brothers Anthony and Joe Russo of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame fame produce and direct. Joe also co-wrote the script with frequent collaborators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who also penned the Captain America films.
But while something like Captain America: Civil War or Endgame packed a lot of over-the-top spectacle but still managed to produce the kind of well-rounded story Marvel got us used to in previous phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Gray Man is simply adrenaline, action, chase scenes, hand-to-hand combat and not much glue in the middle to hold all of it together. And even though the movie boasts a talented cast — Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfre Woodard, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Wagner Moura —- I never got the chance to get invested in any of the characters, even if at two hours and two minutes, The Gray Man felt long.
The Gray Man opened in movie theaters a week before its streaming release, and I had the option to watch it that way. I said no and opted for the Netflix-and-chill way. I’m glad I did. Nothing in its CGI-heavy imagery justifies the trip to the Cineplex. But I’m sure, even if it’s a flawed movie, it’ll find an audience among the Netflix crowd that has binged en masse films like Extraction or even Red Notice . It does make for a good undemanding Friday-night watch.
There’s a sequence aboard a plane on the verge of crashing where Gosling’s character finds himself in desperate need of a parachute. What ensues was very predictable. It brought me memories of other skydiving scenes in Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) and Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break (1991). The difference is that in those other films you could see there had been a mixture of practical effects and some digital magic. The Gray Man ’s aerial stunt scene is just pure CGI overload.
There are salvageable parts in The Gray Man . Gosling does his best deadpan and looks great in all kinds of 42-Regular jackets and blazers — his character is quite the dresser. Naturally, you’ll get a chance to see him shirtless, more buff and seemingly photoshopped than he was in Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) . “You clean up very well,” Moura’s character tells Six in the movie, and that must be the film’s biggest understatement.
There are other bits of humor here and there. “You hurt?” de Armas’ character — she plays CIA agent Dani Miranda in what almost looks like a reprisal of her memorable part in No Time to Die — asks Six. “I mean, my ego is a little bruised,” he replies. She’s had to save him from perilous situations on more than one occasion. I just wished the filmmakers had used her even more.
The action takes you from Bangkok to Azerbaijan, Turkey, London, Hong Kong, Vienna, Berlin, Prague and a very posh castle in Croatia. And while The Gray Man didn’t shoot in all of those locations, fortunately this is not Red Notice and its digital recreation of international settings. The production of the movie worked in locations in Los Angeles, France, the Czech Republic, Thailand, Croatia, Austria and Azerbaijan.
North of Paris, the movie was filmed at the historic Château de Chantilly . They also shot down a central square in Prague for ten days to film one excessive and explosion-filled sequence that in the movie drags for way too long.
The Gray Man contains all the right ingredients to be a sort of renewed The Bourne Identity (2002) but doesn’t know how to properly combine all of them. Even the hand-to-hand sequences managed to disappoint; they lacked the kind of craft and naturalism of the John Wick / Atomic Blonde / Extraction school.
My favorite part of the movie has been a promotion tour that has gifted us the most sartorially compelling red-carpet looks and where Gosling has been offering us crumbs about his turn as Ken in the upcoming Greta Gerwig’s Barbie . And that’s definitely the Gosling fix I’m most looking forward to.
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A shadowy non-governmental organization fights against enemies of the United States. A shadowy non-governmental organization fights against enemies of the United States. A shadowy non-governmental organization fights against enemies of the United States.
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The Hummingbird Project
2018, Drama, 1h 51m
What to know
Smart and well-acted, The Hummingbird Project marks a flawed yet undeniably intriguing addition to writer-director Kim Nguyen's filmography. Read critic reviews
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Cousins Vincent and Anton are players in the high-stakes game of high-frequency trading, where winning is measured in milliseconds. Their dream is to build a straight fiber-optic cable line between Kansas and New Jersey, making them millions, but nothing is straightforward for this flawed pair. Anton is the brains, Vincent is the hustler, and together they push each other and everyone around them to the breaking point with their daring adventure.
Rating: R (Language Throughout)
Original Language: English
Director: Kim Nguyen
Producer: Pierre Even
Writer: Kim Nguyen
Release Date (Theaters): Mar 15, 2019 limited
Release Date (Streaming): Jun 11, 2019
Box Office (Gross USA): $371.8K
Runtime: 1h 51m
Distributor: The Orchard
Production Co: Item 7, Belga Productions
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THE DARE PROJECT
Picks up the story from the original 2005 short film and catches up with the gay theater kid and the curious jock as they accidentally run into each other as adults.
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Movie Review – The Hummingbird Project (2018)
June 14, 2019 by Eammon Jacobs
The Hummingbird Project , 2018.
Directed by Kim Nguyen. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Salma Hayek, Michael Mando, Sarah Goldberg, Frank Shorpion, Johan Heldenbergh, and Kwasi Songui.
Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) and his cousin, Anton Zaleski (Alexander Skarsgård) leave their jobs as high-frequency traders to lay a fibre-optic line across America that could make them millions.
Although at times it might lull the audience into a sense of ‘based on a true story’, The Hummingbird Project is surprisingly a work of fiction written by the film’s director, Kim Nguyen. Maybe it’s the social political commentary, or that it deals with trading and finance in a way that both The Wolf of Wall Street and The Social Network looked at in their own unique visions. If DiCaprio’s riotous Jordan Belfort was at the top of the money-making chain, the Zaleski cousins are somewhere near the bottom. As the pair leave their careers as high-frequency trading behind with a goal of laying a cable in one straight line from Kansas to New York, the aim is still to get rich by doing so – they just have a hands on approach.
It isn’t the most glamorous plot, but neither does it promise to be a grand epic tale. From the very beginning it’s clear that this is a character driven excuse to look at how fast technology is progressing. And for the large part, it succeeds. There are moments where it stumbles, especially in the beginning but once the audience is used to the Zaleski cousins and their situation it’s an intriguing watch that proves to be entertaining.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Vincent Zaleski has big dreams that feel entrenched with naivety at every turn as he places absolute faith that his cousin can sort the code that saves traders milliseconds in time – thus making them millions of dollars. There’s the obvious comparison to Eisenberg’s performance of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network , except that as Vincent Zaleski there’s more of a genuine connection with the rest of the characters – rather than using them in a manipulative fashion. As he’s troubled by his own mortality, his drive to achieve this monumental goal only becomes more intense – placing more pressure on the people around him. Most notably on his cousin, Anton.
It’s a huge step away from some of Alexander Skarsgård’s recent action-orientated appearances in Mute and Tarzan . He gives an impressively focused performance of a hyper intelligent coder, but at times goes overboard as Anton drowns in his desperation and paranoia to shave off a millisecond in his code’s transference of data. He’s literally hunched over with the weight of self-doubt and pressure to complete the task. The character dynamic between the two cousins is largely more entertaining than the trials and tribulations of laying the fibre-optic pipe across America. There are moments where they refer to David and Goliath, comparing themselves to David as they attempt to undertake all the other trading companies to quickly make a fortune. It’s obvious there’s something of an ego lurking beneath Vincent’s fast-talking salesman, as he truly believes that this is something he deserves to achieve.
As they stumble their way into making their dream a reality, they’re plagued by Salma Hayek’s Eve – who the pair both used to work for until leaving for their own project. While she attempts to derail the pair she spends most of her time onscreen either belittling her employees, aside from one intimidating scene threatens Anton. Although her performance is charismatic and entertaining, Hayek feels wildly out of place and would instead fit nicely in something like the Ocean ‘s franchise rather than a drama that at times raises socio-political questions.
One stand-out performance in the supporting cast comes from Michael Mando. His engineer with a positive ‘can-do’ attitude brings levity to the somewhat complicated familial relationship between the two cousins. That isn’t to say that the pair don’t get on, but it’s clear that Vincent struggles with Anton’s particular behaviour and habits at times. But Mando’s character is not only there to drive their operation forward at a base level, but as a friend too – and it’s clear how much he and Vincent have become friends towards the back half of the film.
The direction from Nguyen leans into the aspirations of these men and their goals, making it feel incredibly grounded. There’s a climactic scene in a forest towards the end of the film that reveals everything we need to know about Vincent’s journey, who he is and how this whole operation has affected his mindset with the use of some clever imagery and a single repeated line of dialogue. So while the pacing of the film might not be as slick as it could be, it still manages to be effective.
The Hummingbird Project interestingly poses a question on the ethics of trading and how it affects the working class at the bottom of the rung. And later it asks whether speeding up the digital world and our connections across the globe is a step forward for humanity, or a misguided leap in the wrong direction. The questions posed to the audience on whether humanity should be allowed to process information so quickly are answered by the Zaleski cousins descent into desperate paranoia while their former employer becomes increasingly greedy.
Although it struggles to get going, The Hummingbird Project manages to grab the audience by examining a pair of determined workers while giving them questions to ask about technology, money and family. With a touching final scene that strips it all back to basics, it’s clear that the filmmakers believe that the grass is not always greener.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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