The word “blockbuster” etymologically comes from news reporting of the allied bombs rained on fascist Italy. They demolished entire blocks. Eventually, it became shorthand for something shocking—and then about a decade later, to specifically designate movies of a broad appeal and massive cultural impact. Blockbusters, in the modern sense of the term, have a certain weight and import to them; the important movies that drive discourse and leave a mark, somehow or other. The most expensive Netflix production so far, Anthony and Joe Russo’s The Gray Man certainly feels like the studio’s first true blockbuster.
Ryan Gosling plays a sterling Sierra Six, a man incarcerated on vaguely noble charges hired as an operative by the Central Intelligence Agency to execute and assassinate as the government demands. After agreeing to the CIA’s terms, Six is completely in the gray: all records of his former person are made non-existent. A decade or so later, Six is sent to remove another target, and it becomes apparent he doesn’t typically permit much thought to the personalities he’s supposed to nullify. But after a child stumbles into his crosshairs, Six’s ability to murder without collateral is obnubilated. Things get even more complicated when he confronts the target, a fellow Sierra operative who hands Six an encrypted flash drive with his dying gesture—a gesture that makes Gosling’s Six question the program that saved him from a prison cell.
The Gray Man succeeds precisely where earlier attempts failed. For myself, star performances and expensive grand sets are two non-negotiable ingredients of a blockbuster. The Russo brothers’ newest film has both. (And maybe it’s just a two-ingredient genre film, but that’s perfectly fine with me). The end product manages to deliver the best Netflix original since The Disciple (2020), and come 7/22, it will likely be the most entertaining in-house production on the platform.
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