CLEVELAND, Ohio — Before becoming Hollywood’s most successful directing duo, Joe and Anthony were big movie fans. Growing up in Cleveland, the brothers loved going to the theater to see action movies, especially quoting them and then re-watching them at home on their VCRs.
“The Gray Man,” which opens in select theaters Friday ahead of its July 22 premiere on Netflix, is the kind of movie they’ve always wanted to make.
“It’s reminiscent of the movies we loved growing up,” Joe said. “It’s a great fun summer action movie.”
But somehow, “great” doesn’t seem like enough of a word to describe it. Based on a series of books by Mark Greaney, “The Gray Man” is an old-school spy thriller with a budget of $200 million, making it the most expensive Netflix movie of all time. It features a top-notch cast, several international locations, and several huge and elaborate sets that, frankly, will take your breath away.
“We like to go to a movie theater and have a very strong, visceral emotional experience. So we try to recreate that in the work that we do,” Anthony said. “This film is very intense, very borderline your seats and the kind of movie you forget to eat your popcorn while you watch.”
“What we loved about the book was that it was relentless from start to finish,” added Joe, who also wrote the screenplay with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. “It made for a very exciting read and I hope we made an exciting movie.”
He and his brother have nothing to fear. The film is indeed a two-hour thrill ride. Not to mention, the Russos have one of the most impressive track records in the industry, having directed two “Captain America” movies and two “Avengers” movies. The film represents their return to the blockbuster game after “Cherry”, a smaller and more personal film, was a critical disappointment.
“We’ve made movies in our career for as little money as possible and we’ve made movies for as much money as you could possibly make a movie and it’s the same on our end,” Anthony said. .
“The Gray Man” in the title is Court Gentry, a man serving time for murder at the start of the film who is recruited by the CIA to work in the shadows and kill bad guys.
“He’s so undercover there’s not even a CIA record of him,” Anthony explained. “There have been many amazing takes on the spy genre over the decades, and if you want to give it a go, we really wanted to strive to find an original way to tell a story that brought something new. So, we liked to anchor this story around this character who wants to disappear, who is still anonymous.
For the role, the directors cast Ryan Gosling, an actor who has done a few action movies but is certainly not known as an action movie star.
“Ryan Gosling is like a master of minimalism. It can convey so much emotion, so much thought, so much complexity, texture and charisma while doing very little. It seemed to fit the character really well,” Anthony said. “He physically went to places he had never gone before in his career. He really became that character.
At the start of the film, the character, who goes by the name Six after his identity is cleared, uncovers dirty CIA secrets that make him the subject of an intense global manhunt led by Lloyd Hansen, a Unbalanced but results-oriented ex-CIA. agent whom Joe describes as an “agent of chaos”.
“We wanted (the character) to evoke some of the extremist groups that are popping up in the world today,” he said.
Chris Evans, who starred as Captain America in all four Russo-directed Marvel films, plays Lloyd.
“He told us when we were doing ‘Endgame,’ he said, ‘Look, I had a great run with Marvel and I’m in a really comfortable place and I just want to take risks for the rest of my career,'” Joe said. “That’s when we thought of him as the villain instead of the hero. He and Ryan together are fantastic.
Gosling and Evans are actually a joy to watch, as they chase each other across Europe, trading witty banter and a few punches along the way. Speaking of those fight scenes, the film contains some of the most intense and complex action sequences ever seen on the big screen. Fans of ‘The Bourne Identity’ and ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchises should enjoy watching Gosling escape a crashing plane or him and his co-star Ana de Armas (‘No Time To Die’ ) confronting Tamil movie star Dhanush (in his Hollywood debut) in a hospital.
“We spent many, many months imagining what the footage might be like,” Anthony said. “We were really trying to create something very intense and real and the audience could feel that.”
The centerpiece is a nearly 10-minute scene that took six weeks to shoot. It starts with Gosling being handcuffed to a bench in central Prague and ends with him jumping off a runaway subway with many, many gunshots, explosions, and car crashes in between.
“I think it was comparable to what happened in Cleveland when we had to close the freeway for two weeks,” Joe said, referring to when he and Anthony filmed “Captain America: The Winter. Soldier” on the shore in 2013. “We still apologize for that.
Shooting on location rather than on a soundstage in front of a green screen provided a myriad of challenges for directors. But Joe said the payoff was worth it, especially in a movie like this that’s grounded in reality, not fantasy.
“It adds a level of realism for the actors,” he said. “It gives them that geography to act opposite and it helps us as filmmakers define the action sequences based on all the real-world elements that we’re dealing with.”
The result is the Russo Brothers’ most cinematic film to date. The irony is that most people probably won’t see it on the big screen, but at home. It’s something they accept.
“Netflix can have a huge cultural impact,” Joe said. “Anthony and I love the cutting-edge approach that technology brings to distribution. We also love democratizing storytelling and we think that’s something that streamers do really well because they reach audiences all over the world. of any economy class. Going to the movies is expensive for a lot of people. So we’re happy for people to experience the story in the way that suits them best.
Their next movie, “The Electric State,” is also heading to Netflix. Maybe after that they will return to the world of “The Gray Man”. Besides Gosling, Evans, de Armas and Dhanush, the film features bright young stars like Regé-Jean Page (“Bridgerton”) and Jessica Henwick (“The Matrix Resurrections”).
“One of the things we’ve discovered over the four movies we’ve made in the MCU is that Joe and I love serialized storytelling,” Anthony said. “This movie has a really big ensemble, wonderful characters, wonderful actors. We feel like it’s the kind of story where, moving forward, we can follow anyone or any group of these characters, whether in the future or in the past. We are very excited about more iterations of this story.
“The Gray Man” is rated PG-13 and opens in select theaters July 15 ahead of its July 22 premiere on Netflix.