At The Movies: Spy thriller The Gray Man is slick, drama Stop-Zemlia is poignant

A still from The Gray Man starring Ryan Gosling. PHOTO: NETFLIX

The Gray Man (NC16)

129 minutes, Netflix

2 stars

The story: Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans face off as, respectively, a Central Intelligence Agency operative who discovers bad things about his employers, and the government contractor leading the manhunt to obliterate him. That Evans' assassin is a sociopath is telegraphed by his sleazy moustache.

Here are three things to note about the film:

1. No expenses spared

The budget was an eye-watering US$200 million (S$277 million), which afforded the combined marquee power of Gosling and Evans as well as the services of Marvel Cinematic Universe directors Anthony and Joe Russo. Still, there was loose change for globe-trotting action spectacle of the explosive sort designed to destroy every capital from Bangkok to Berlin.

The Gray Man is Netflix's most expensive production. The spy-versus-spy adventure is adapted from a multi-novel collection by Mark Greaney as the start of a planned espionage blockbuster franchise.

2. Hard-working star

Gosling braves grenade launchers, guns, knives, a mid-flight brawl and evil agency boss Rege-Jean Page while also rescuing his mentor's (Billy Bob Thornton) kidnapped niece (Julia Butters).

3. Spy thriller pastiche

Ana de Armas plays Gosling's sidekick, a skilled agent like her Bond girl in No Time To Die (2021), although this hyperactive romp is no James Bond classic. It is mere slick, workmanlike entertainment.

Stop-Zemlia (M18)

(From left) Maria Fedorchenko with best friends Arsenii Markov and Yana Isaienko in Stop-Zemlia. PHOTO: ANTICIPATE PICTURES

122 minutes, opens July 28 at The Projector

4 stars

The story: A 16-year-old introvert (Maria Fedorchenko) in Kyiv, Ukraine, navigates her final year of high school with her two best friends (Yana Isaienko and Arsenii Markov), the three of them buoying up one another through their anxieties about themselves and the future.

Three reasons to watch this film:

1. Multiple awards

Ukrainian cinema is often overlooked despite its presence at international festivals. This coming-of-age drama surely deserves the widest audience as the 2021 Ukrainian Film Critics' Best Feature Film. Moreover, Kateryna Gornostai won Best Director and Best Screenplay, and Fedorchenko was Best Actress.

2. Growing pains

Maria Fedorchenko (right) and Yana Isaienko in class in Stop-Zemlia. PHOTO: ANTICIPATE PICTURES

There are parties, crushes, smartphones, family tiffs, sexual experimentation and biology class, nothing seismic. Except Gornostai understands and conveys how intensely teenagers feel every moment, how vulnerable they are, because the screenplay was inspired by her adolescence.

She splices in improvised interviews with the characters sharing their fears and dreams. The movie is an authentic and empathetic docu-fiction of Ukrainian youth.

3. Reality bites

Also part of the curriculum: weapons training. Ukraine has been under attack by Russia since 2014, and the scene of the students practising on AK 4 rifles is painfully sad in view of the current invasion and the awareness that, for these kids with their open, laughing faces, tomorrow is grim.

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