The Gray Man by Mark Greaney (2009)
The Gray Man directed by Joe Russo and Anthony Russo
You may recognize the Russo names, because they directed some episodes of Arrested Development! Oh, and some of those superhero movies, like the avengers or something like that, anyway.
The basic gist of book and movie is we have a CIA undercover operative who is the best in the biz and is known as the “gray man” (in the movie he is referred to as Sierra Six, or just Six, but in the book his name is Court Gentry but is also often referred to as the Gray Man). For reasons that differ from book to film, his cover is blown by his own boss and every assassin in the world is on the hunt for him. His boss had no choice but to betray him, because they are keeping his family hostage and when the gray man finds this out, he makes his way to their location to save the family and have a final showdown with the man who is spearheading this whole thing-a psychopath named Lloyd.
In the end, of course the gray man survives, beating off assassin after assassin, defying death, and he saves the family (mostly) and Lloyd is killed.
This kind of action book is one that is out of my comfort zone and is not at all the type of book I usually gravitate towards. I read it because the movie has a great cast and so I wanted to cover it lol.
Having said that, I did enjoy this book. It is fast paced and I love when stories have the situation where multiple baddies are after the same thing/same person. It is just such a fun set up when they are in competition with each other. It was entertaining seeing how he slipped the noose time and time again, though there were times it was described in too much detail, like when he MacGyvered a bomb while in a pit. It was a cool final product, but the way the book described in detail how he did it was kind of boring. In that way it reminded me of reading The Revenant. Scenes like that just work better for me in a movie. I can appreciate that Greaney is taking the time to show how it could be done, but at the same time I was not all that interested in the how.
There were also quite a few cheesy lines (“The Gray Man is one bad son of a bitch. He don’t care, he don’t scare.”), and the characters were all pretty cliché. It was an entertaining book, but certainly nothing deep about it.
I saw the movie in theaters and like the book, it was fast paced and a good time. I don’t think it is a movie that will have people talking about it for months, or even years after (though there will be sequels so I guess people will be talking about it once again when the sequel comes out). For me though, it was one of those movies that is very entertaining, but ultimately kind of forgettable.
Having said that, I think everyone was excellently cast! Chris Evans was originally offered the lead role but turned it down in favor of the villain! I loved his scenes and he had a few lines that made me laugh out loud.
There were also some good action scenes, my favorite fight scene was when he was in hand-to-hand combat with the guy while he was guarding the young girl, Claire. The scene in the doctors office with Avik San, Six and Ana de Armas’ character was also cool. The huge scene with the cars and the tram was a bit over the top (in the book things never escalated quite to that extent), it was cool but I prefer the hand-to-hand combat type fight scenes more so than the over the top stuff. But within that huge scene, there were still some cool moments.
As far as how it compares ot the book, this is the kind of adaptation I like, because it follows the book quite close in some ways, but changes just enough that is still keeps readers of the book on their toes.
Why they want him dead
The beginning of the movie we see Ryan Gosling is on a job to kill a bad guy, however he holds off on killing him from a distance because there is a kid near him. He then shuts the power of and kills the men in close combat and fights the target hand to hand before killing him. Before he dies, he tells Six that he himself works for the same agency. Six questions him and his answers check out. The guy gives him this encrypted chip he has and says that the new guy in charge of their team, Carmichael, is corrupt. Six tries to look at the chip but can’t, so he mails it to a retired boss. Carmichael now suspects Six has the chip which has incriminating information, and therefore wants Six taken out. He calls up a buddy of his, Lloyd, a man who uses cruel and unusual methods, to lead the team and kill Six.
In the book this is quite different. Court (known as Six in the movie) kills the brother of a political leader. The political leader is about to sign a billion-dollar gas/oil contract with this other group, but when his brother is dead he says he refuses to sign until the killer of his brother is caught and killed. Lloyd is given the job of killing Court, and so he goes to Fitzroy-Court’s handler (the only guy who knows Court’s identity and location) and tells him to have Court killed. Lloyd later calls up a guy named Riegel to also help and so Lloyd and Riegel have set up home base in Fitzroy’s France house where the hostages are.
In the movie we have Lloyd, and a women named Susanna as the main two at “headquarters” who are in charge of overseeing things. In both, Lloyd is the one who gets violent and out of control, while the other, Riegel and Susanna are trying to have a level head.
The Gray Man’s background
In the book, we don’t get much into Court’s history. We know he has worked for various companies, and even worked with Lloyd while in the FBI. Lloyd remembers working with Court, but Court genuinely doesn’t remember Lloyd and this of course hurts Lloyd’s narcissistic pride.
The movie has added a backstory to Six and we find out that he has an abusive father and when his father was hurting Six’s brother, Six kills him. Six is then sent to jail and stays there until Fitzroy approaches him and offers him this job. Apparently, Fitzroy hired multiple former convicts, (including the guy who was killed in the beginning) and called the group “the gray men”. At this point in the movie, the other men are either back in jail or in prison and Six is the only one left.
The movie follows the book pretty close with the different times Six is almost killed. We have the scene in the plane when the guys on his side are told by Fitzroy (with Lloyd listening) to kill him. Of course, Six/Court is very observant and can tell something is up and kills all the men and escapes out of the plane. When reading this part in the book though, part of me was like, “does Court’s life really mean more than the lives of these 4-6 men??” They probably have wives and kids and stuff, whereas Court is a lone wolf. That’s my problem with action movies in general, we are supposed to be routing for this guy, but because he doesn’t just give up, so many innocent lives are taken! We also have the whole scene in the square which leads to the tram sequence where so many people are injured and I’m sure a lot died. Granted, that was Lloyd’s fault not Six’s. But still. Just so much death over one stinkin guy!
Anyway, after this in the movie he calls Fitzroy and this is when Fitzroy tells him he had no choice because they have his niece held hostage. In the book, he isn’t aware of that until later. He goes to a hideout only he and Fitzroy know about, so when people show up, he therefore knows Fitzroy betrayed him. But Fitzroy is able to explain that his son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters have been kidnapped and he had no choice. Whereas in the movie it is Fitzroy’s niece whom he has raised like his own daughter.
Anyway, from here, in book and movie he goes to get a fake ID made, but when the guy is taking his photo, he sends him through a trap door and he falls into a pit. In both, he makes a bomb, fills the pit with water from a busted pipe, floats the bomb to the surface and escapes right when the men are there to get him.
In the movie, Lloyd is part of this group and they have their first in person fight. This wasn’t the case in the book, he and Lloyd talk on the phone but don’t meet face to face til the very end. But in the movie, Ana de Armas’s character comes up from behind Lloyd and shoots him with a tranquilizer, saving Six in this instance.
Ana de Armas
De Armas’s character wasn’t in the book at all, but I liked her addition. I don’t remember her name in the movie, she was called a number too I would assume, but I will just refer to her using the actress’s name (by the way, if you like de Armas, I talked about her in my coverage for Deep Water book vs movie and will be talking about her again in September when the movie Blonde comes out).
Anyway, in the movie her own job and life are on the line, so she wants to find out the truth with what is going on with Six. She wants to see the chip, but he tells her he mailed it to a former boss and so the two of them make their way to Prague where the woman now lives.
Once there, they learn the truth about Carmichal and Lloyd’s dirty deeds, and she and Six team up to rescue the young girl.
The woman who decoded the chip-Margret Cahill, is dying of cancer, and helps them escape out a trap door and gives them the keys to her bullet proof car.
When the bad guys show up, she has turned on the gas and once they are in the room, she lights a lighter and they all blow up.
This happens in the book, however there is no chip, he was just visiting a retired boss of his to get some rest and help. Like the movie, this boss is dying of cancer, and says how he would rather die heroically protecting Court, then just die slowly. So, he sends Court through a secret tunnel, gives him the keys to his bullet proof car, and does the same thing with the gas and light.
The family being held hostage
Before moving on with Six, I should return to where headquarters have been set up. So, in the book, they are in a big house in Normandy, and they are keeping Fitzroy and his family. From the family, we get the perspective of one of the young daughters. At one point, she tries to go running to the police, her dad tries to go after her, and the dad is shot. The daughters aren’t aware of this though, once the daughter is caught, they tell her and her sister that he left to go back to London. The mom wasn’t doing much anyway, but after the death of her husband, she literally is just sleeping throughout the rest of the book because they gave her meds to calm her down. The daughter helps Fitzroy by stealing a guard’s cell phone which Fitzroy uses to call Court and help him out. Later, another guard voluntarily gives Fitzroy his cell, saying he knows the Gray Man will succeed and he is helping out in exchange for the Gray Man not killing him when he shows up.
In both, we see that Six is personally invested in the rescue of Fitzroy’s family not only because he likes Fitzroy, but because he guarded the daughters/niece at one point years before and had grown fond of them. We see this a bit more in the movie and they have also added the fact that Claire has heart issues. She kind of had an annoying attitude at the start that was supposed to be cute or funny but I didn’t love it. She grew on me though.
Oh and in the movie, Fitzroy never makes secret contact with Six the way he does in the book. In the end of the movie, he ends up dying but in the book he survives.
Getting to the headquarters
Before getting to Claire and all of them, they fight an Indian assassin named Avik San. He gets the chip and gives it to Lloyd. He is shown to be a top killer, and in the book, we have someone like this too. However, he fights Court in an alleyway and ends up dying, though he inflicts considerable wounds to Court, including in his belly, which is also the case in the movie. The movie also has Six get stabbed in the hand and I believe that was a thing in the book as well.
In the movie, this guy ends up giving the chip to de Armas because he realizes what a bad guy Lloyd is and doesn’t want to help him anymore.
But in the book, after the fight with this top notch guy, he jumps off a bridge into a river in order to get away. He washes ashore a ways away and considers giving up because he is so badly wounded, has gotten little to no sleep, and little food. However, at this moment he gets a phone call and it is Claire calling to ask when he will be showing up to save them. He can’t let her down and decides to continue on. He talks to Fitzroy and asks who in the area he can go to for medical help and the best option is a veterinarian who is in the area.
The vet is away, so the vet tech helps him, who is of course a pretty woman. Anyway, while Court drives to Normandy, she stiches him up and gets him hooked up to an IV in the car. He ends up passing out while driving and they crash. From there he gets a car form some other people that were following them and in preparation for the big finale, he takes some methamphetamines to keep himself going even though they could also potentially kill him.
In the movie, de Armas is there helping, and they break into a vet office and grab some supplies. Six isn’t in as bad of shape as he had been in the book so it isn’t as dire. And there is a scene where he jumps off a bridge into water, but that happens later when they are in the house/headquarters place.
In the book, when Court arrives, it is passed the deadline and the president who wanted him dead has backed out of the contract and the countries have been told there is no longer a bounty on Court’s head because they were too late. But, Lloyd still keeps the men at the house and is now planning on killing the Fitzroy family. Court does show up though and saves the family. He then has a final interaction with Lloyd on the grounds, and Court has been knocked down and seems to be on deaths door. At this moment, Lloyd is shot from behind and we see that Riegel, who hadn’t liked Lloyd or his methods, has killed Lloyd. Then some company (I guess the people Riegel works for?) show up and offer to hire Court because they are so impressed with him and they get him to a hospital. The book ends sometime later, we see him meeting up with Claire because she didn’t see what happened and is worried he is dead. She is relieved to see he is still alive; and we are given a peak into his future missions and the end.
In the movie, de Armas shoots from outside the house while Six sneaks in. He saves Claire and Fitz, however we see on their escape out, Fitz has been shot. He stays put and uses a grenade to go out guns a blazing while Six and Claire jump from the bridge to safety.
From there, Lloyd gets Claire and takes her into a maze and Court follows. He lets Claire go, and de Armas has a gun on Lloyd from the building and tells Court she can get him (like Riegel in the book) but Court tells her no and to instead get Claire.
Lloyd and Six then have a fight, which I enjoyed because once again it is hand to hand. Six gets the best of him and is strangling him in a headlock when Lloyd is then shot by Susanna-the Riegel counterpart. This surprised me, because I expected de Armas to be the one to show up and get Lloyd.
From here, Susanna tells Six that they are going to use Lloyd as the scapegoat for all of this and will keep Claire so Carmichael and Susanna can get Six to do what they want.
In the end though, we see Six escape from the hospital and rescues Claire. The end.
Book vs Movie
I didn’t love either of these, and as said, I don’t see the movie as one people are going to be shouting from the rooftops. But I did have a fun time watching it, and it was more enjoyable than the book, even though that was also entertaining. Six’s backstory with his abusive dad was a bit cliché, but I actually kind of liked that added story. I like the movie better too because of the addition of the de Armas character. I liked that it wasn’t just him alone escaping time and time again, but that he had the help of de Armas who is just as talented as he. (When I first saw she was in the movie, I was like is she going to be in the small role of the vet tech?? I hope not! And thankfully that indeed was not the case.) And Evans was also really fun to watch. Oh, and I forgot to mention a funny line where he says something like, “Would someone put a bullet in that Ken dolls head?!” This is funny because Gosling is currently filming the Barbie movie where he plays Ken.
Gosling did sign on for a multi film contract which the first time he has ever done so. If there is a second movie based on the second book in the series, I don’t know if I would take the time to read that book, but I’m sure I would end up watching the movie.