Ryan Gosling is our greatest action movie star

I was willing to despise the “gray man”, because who wouldn’t it be? It was directed by the Russo brothers, two men who seem fiercely determined to transform a film director job from that of a skilled craftsman to that of an executive for a tech company. It’s available on Netflix, a lackluster company whose latest foray into big action movies is Red Notice, a slouchy Dwayne Johnson/Ryan Reynolds/Gal Gadot that everyone hated if they didn’t completely forget. And friends I trust had seen the Gray Man and were bored and angry. So, being sane, I was ready to watch this movie, hate it, and then make a fortune watching the page with a pretty cool job.

But then Ryan Gosling had to go and it all ended.

It’s not entirely a new development when our best actors are tasked with raising parts that, strictly technically, qualify as playing too much. Every great British actor has done it for the Harry Potter franchise. Robert Downey did it for “Iron Man” and made unimaginable sums for his efforts. And Al Pacino has done so in nearly every movie he’s appeared in over the past 40 years. There are fewer and fewer green-lit films each year, and summer homes don’t pay for them. So it’s only natural that a super talented actor like Ryan Gosling would throw a bone at Netflix, earn a whopping $20 million salary, and lend his name to what seems to be a glorified airplane movie.

At the start of “The Gray Man”, it seemed like an unfortunate decision in all respects except financially. The first half hour or so lived up to expectations. The plot is every plot from every action movie you have ever seen. There are a million free aerial shots of faraway places that don’t tell you anything about those places. There is a dearth of attention to detail that would make Michael Mann groan. There are drone screenshots which may also have a ‘Drone shot’ overlayed on the bottom of the screen. There is a rude kid with a heart condition. Production values, despite the $200 million “Grey Man” price tag, are abhorrent. There are starkly CGI-enabled fireworks, as well as extended sequences where Gosling is digitally superimposed over backgrounds of nothing but pink glow gun smoke. I’ve seen Garfield cartoons that look more realistic. This movie sucked and sucked really well. I couldn’t have been more excited to complain about that.

However, halfway through “The Gray Man,” I didn’t want to stop watching, because I could feel it rising to meet the standard set by the headline. The Russians finally settled into one location for the back half of the movie (Croatia), where stunts have more texture, effects are more poignant, drone footage is used appropriately, Billy Bob Thornton gets his facial hair, Anna de Armas is given an infinite number From RPGs to shooting bad guys, the action settles into a rhythm worthy of Gosling’s myriad talents.

I’ve always been a connoisseur of medium action fare. She grew up with the canon Schwarzenegger, which included “Red Heat” per “Total Recall.” Before joining “The Gray Man”, I had tested three recent models of this type and enjoyed them in “Den of Thieves”, “Blackhat” and “Ambulance”. The latter is perhaps the closest corollary to “The Gray Man” in that it was directed by another Michael Bay trade junkie, his first half hour, and features a star, Jake Gyllenhaal, who appears to be above material in the hand but actually fits perfectly. I’ve seen this trick done many times in old action movies like “Taken” and “Die Hard”, and it’s often a hit. It turns out that “the f-ks award-winning actor every up” is not only a solid movie formula, but perhaps one of the best.


Ryan Gosling might be the perfect bowl for this formula. After all, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen him do an action movie. I saw Gosling in “The Nice Guys.” You saw him in the movie “Blade Runner 2049”. And if you want to count “First Man” as an action movie, well, there was, too. (I haven’t seen ‘Drive’, but this is on me and will be corrected soon.) In the Gosling action movies I’ve seen, it was perfect. He was so perfect again in “The Gray Man” that towards the end of the movie I realized that the material wasn’t under him. These are actually the roles he was born to play. I don’t want to see Gosling in Half Nelson. I hated this movie. I don’t even want to see him in high-end art fare like La La Land because he was, surprisingly, the weak link in it. I definitely don’t want to see him play an af-king Ken doll in a Greta Gerwig Barbie movie that promises to be 2% more subversive than it looks on paper. I just want to see him kick his ass and then he looks like he needs a nap.

For this movie, Gosling takes more than that. His six character is poorly written. We don’t even get the compliment of a dramatic scene at the end where he reveals that his real name is actually Jim or something. Gosling star Chris Evans has been given more landscapes to chew on (plus Barbie digs), and Evans does an excellent job of swallowing every last bit of it. But it’s even more fun to watch a guy like Gosling act his way out of the jacket of creative limitations. Six Goslings barely speak at all. Instead, everyone fights. Weary. He kills all the bad guys while taking a knife to the ribs, then sits down, spits out one decent line (“I’m going to bleed while having this conversation”), and looks pretty tired. There is no better actor right now than this guy at looking tired.

And you need this fatigue. This is what makes a great action movie. You have to feel that even though our hero should be outside blowing hard, he doesn’t really want to. Bruce Willis had this gift, and Gosling has it in greater abundance. He’s one of those actors who can convey a character’s most complex emotions without ever moving his face, and he summons that little superpower over and over to make the Gray Guy more than it deserves. I want to see Gosling do movies like this more often. I’m not sure I’d want to see him do any other kind of movie, honestly. Because Ryan Gosling is, as now, the number one action hero working in movies today. He’s better at a Tom Cruise job than Tom Cruise, and that’s no small feat.



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