The Gray Man
(Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)
Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans are pitted against each other in Bourne For Dummies, aka The Gray Man.
Gosling is Sierra Six, a killer in the U.S. government’s shadow squad with a traumatic history that gets trotted out when the movie needs a beat between extremely loud and obnoxious CGI-heavy action scenes. You know the lay of the land. Six becomes a target after discovering highly sensitive information. The government unit that wants those secrets buried hires Chris Evans’s Lloyd, a smug contractor who colours outside the lines – he tortures for fun, kidnaps kids and reduces blocks and blocks of European real estate to rubble. The Russo Brothers clearly saw Evans’s terrific performance as an asshole in Knives Out and figured they could do it better by putting a porn-stache on their Captain America star. They also plucked Knives Out star Ana de Armas, casting her as a conflicted assassin.
By now, the Russo brand should be familiar. They’ve been absurdly successful in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, directing Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame (the second-highest grossing movie of all time). They make cameos in The Gray Man, confident that fans will recognize the in-joke when they see Anthony Russo strapped to a chair with electric cables clamped to his teeth, playing the former Captain America’s first onscreen torture victim.
Their first MCU entry, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was also arguably Marvel Studio’s best. Like The Gray Man, it borrowed liberally from the Bourne movies and its influences like Three Days Of The Condor. Watching the Russos return to similar terrain without the costumes and costly logos, I can’t help but think that Winter Soldier was a fluke. That movie had elegant action sequences and an involving camaraderie between Evans’s Cap and Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow. Anything like that would be drowned out by the clichés and bombast in The Gray Man. The movie has a high-calibre cast (including Indian star Dhanush as a Tamil assassin) who only have room to give intense stares between the most predictive text dialogue.
The reportedly $200-million-plus budget affords a level of anxiety-inducing mayhem and even a solid bit of excitement during a tram sequence in Vienna, all of which pales in comparison to what Michael Bay can do on a $40 million budget (see Ambulance). The Gray Man has the crassness of his movies, but none of the visual grandeur. 122 minutes. Now playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Streams on Netflix beginning July 22. NN
I’m not as hung up on Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot courting Gen Z with expressions like “thriving,” as some of my peers are, who cumulatively handed Persuasion a pretty rotten tomato on critical aggregator sites. Why not have a dumbed-down yet-still charming enough Austen adaptation on Netflix for the audiences who want to wash down some old-school gallantry with TikTok-era flair? Dakota Johnson, whose Anastasia Steele in 50 Shades Of Grey was always thirsty for some Austen-grade romance, plays Elliot as the kind of woman who has 87K Twitter followers eating up the laid-back 280-character barbs that guard her wounded heart.
The new Persuasion doesn’t hold up to the good Austen adaptations like Joe Wright’s Pride And Prejudice or Amy Heckerling’s classic Clueless. The movie lacks for pageantry and Austen’s lush language. But it’s a fine and basic enough rom-com that rests comfortably on Johnson’s capable shoulders.
Persuasion is also the latest post-Bridgerton period piece to diversify the dukes and earls in Georgian-era England. I’m not exactly comfortable with this supposedly progressive colour-blind casting trend – especially in stories like these, where it erases the racism, colonialism and slavery that would have propped up Anne Elliot’s very existance. But such casting also means we get to discover new talent like the charming Nia Towle or enjoy Henry Golding as a suitor with eyes on Anne, behaving deliciously smug. 107 minutes. Now streaming on Netflix. NNN
Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris
There’s an ingenious bit of casting in this adaptation of Paul Gallico’s novel, Mrs. ‘Arris Goes To Paris, which was already made into a TV movie starring Angela Lansbury. The new version stars Lesley Manville, who got an Oscar nomination for her role in Phantom Thread as the thorny overseer at a 1950s British fashion house, throwing all kinds of shade at the women she doesn’t see as fit for her brand. As Mrs. Harris, Manville is trying on the other shoe. She’s the working-class widow in 1950s England who comes into a bit of luck, gathering enough money to purchase a dress from the House of Dior. She makes the trip to Paris, finds her way into Dior despite the protestations of Isabelle Huppert’s high-strung manager, and starts winning everyone over with her warmth, innocence and generosity. She’s basically giving Paddington in a Phantom Thread setting. Manville and Huppert squaring off is an exciting prospect. But they’re slumming it in an easy and saccharine crowd-pleaser, the kind Judi Dench so often makes. Given the times, that may be hard to resist. 115 minutes. Now playing in theatres everywhere. NNN
Also opening theatrically this week
Paws Of Fury: The Legend Of Hank
Michael Cera, Samuel L. Jackson, Ricky Gervais, Mel Brooks; directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song
Directed by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine.
Everything on streaming platforms this month: