Sir, What Made Dhanush Act In ‘The Gray Man’?

| Updated: 23 July, 2022 4:02 pm IST
The Gray Man Cast (Photo Courtesy Twitter @Russo_Brothers)

To hire an actor of Dhanush’ caliber and waste him like this must be some sort of a crime even if it’s not cognizable.

Netflix put in $200 million to make The Gray Man. They should not have. I watched it for Ryan Gosling and Dhanush. The first tries to be dark, depressed, and mysterious between bullets and knives but only comes across as sullen. Dhanush, a great actor, and star with millions of fans in the real and virtual world makes a very late entry as Lone Wolf, in sheepishly cut clothing, and after beating up Gosling and the current Hollywood rage Ana De Armas — here angry and resentful, but also a spy —  a couple of times, exits the movie, saying, ‘These (the CIA guys) are not honorable people,’ and ‘I don’t want to be paid.’ One can only hope he was not referring to the Russo brothers who directed the movie and that he did get his fee. No good actor has been so underutilized as Dhanush in this movie in which a machine gun has more to act than a human.

The story is simple. Ryan Gosling is Sierra Six and he is soon at sevens with the CIA, because the agency for whom he works as a secret operations guy (the gray man) wants him killed. So far so good: which company doesn’t want to murder at least one of its employees? Only a rogue ‘sociopath’ Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) can get the job done. Well, he can’t, it turns out. So, after about an hour into the movie, Hansen, having wrecked half of Europe — London, Vienna, Berlin, Prague — in assassination efforts more botched than the American wars in the Middle East, hires ‘my sexy Tamil friend’ Dhanush.

Enter Lone Wolf — for about five minutes of screen time. Dhanush generally built up as a ruthless killer, finally retrieves the data that will compromise the CIA—whose chief, of course, has no idea what’s going on among his juniors, not even when the movie is over though hundreds have been killed and many cities and cultures have been partially or wholly destroyed on his watch— and hands it over to Hansen, and walks out of the story. Why did he come? Why did he go, Fernando?

Sierra Six survives, having no doubt watched Rajinikanth movies as part of the CIA education, by dodging bullets and occasionally ingratiating them by allowing them to nick him photogenically. He finally has a showdown with Lloyd with bare hands. Nothing like bare hands when it comes to revenge. A couple of minutes later, Six rides away with an underaged girl, who he has been entrusted to protect by his mentor, Fritz ( Bob Thornton), who seems to be in love with him but Six may not show if he reciprocates this criminal sentiment if only because it is politically incorrect, though mass murders and destruction of public property are okay.

The Gray Man is an action movie. Naturally, the Russo brothers ( Anthony and Joe) have seen to it that every five minutes or so fights have to be staged. Every 15 minutes, there is a car chase. Every 20 minutes 10 to 15 men must die. Note: Men; not women, or animals; Men must die.

Whatever happens, Gosling must live. In one protracted fight scene in Prague city square, Gosling is chained to a bench and there is an army of quasi-CIA agents trying to shoot him, guns, revolvers, cannons and all, but have been told by the Russo Brothers to miss. In almost a meta-reference, Hansen, throws up his hands and says, ’Christ, how hard is it to kill a man chained to a bench?’ He might as well be asking the question to the directors. The aspirant assassins are not very discreet either. A city or two is bombed, and a building at the center of a town is ravaged in broad daylight, but only the audience can see it, not the authorities.

That Netflix has found it fit to pour $200 million into this movie and is happy to distribute it with pride explains why the OTT fare on their channels is so dull. They can’t even blame the script; it was written by the Brothers themselves. To hire an actor of Dhanush’ caliber and waste him like this must be some sort of a crime even if it’s not cognizable. It’s altogether another matter why Dhanush would have gone for a role— an over-dressed mercenary killer, who does fight on the screen with more conviction than Gosling and Ana de Armas put together—like this. Perhaps corny dialogues— cornier than the usual Tamil ones— were an attraction: ‘You are going to kill a girl?’. That we have culturally come to a point where suited assassins talk as if they are dispensers of gender justice. Ah.

In an interview, Gosling, a fine, minimalist actor and twice nominated for Academy Awards, said: “What I liked about this character ( Sierra Six) is that he wants something that most of us want, which is just to be free. His goals aren’t monetary, it’s not about treasure, it’s not revenge. He just wants to have the right to sit on the couch and watch Netflix like the rest of us.” Maybe. But not Netflix. And, surely, not The Gray Man?

(CP Surendran is a poet, novelist, screenplay writer, and columnist. He lives in Delhi.)

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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