If you watched The Gray Man on Netflix during its initial week on the platform, you no doubt took note of one of the most wonderfully destructive extended action sequences in recent memory. Mild spoilers: The titular spy (Ryan Gosling) finds himself handcuffed to a stone park bench in Prague. The Czech police put him there as they investigate an explosion. At the same time, the sleazy mercenary Lloyd (Chris Evans) sends his team to kill the Gray Man. It doesn’t end quietly, let’s just say, as the mercs and the cops open fire on each other. Eventually the scene transitions to a chase on a tram with cars and tanks and all sorts. It’s quite a thing!
We spoke to the film’s directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, about how this enormous scene came together.
“It took months to execute that,” said Joe Russo. “What’s interesting is that we’re very script disciplined because that’s how we communicate to the thousands of people who are working with us. The vision is put in the script. So part of our process of working with [screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely] over the years has been sitting in a room for months on end, combing through the script on a screen together, putting in our ideas as directors, their ideas as writers and combining it all until we feel like that’s everything we want everyone to know. Now let’s go make the movie. And then once you’ve got a great basis for a plan, you can throw the plan out if you need to.”
Russo went on to explain that part of executing these huge action sequences comes from making sure the “story” of the sequence is strong. “While we’re executing during the day,” Russo continued, “we’re also having the editor cut that footage together. So at night we can go in and look at it and see if we’re telling the right story. We see if we’re getting enough from our lead character, if there’s enough banter at the right moments to move the action forward. Because your brain can only handle about 30 seconds of untethered action right before it starts to shut down.”
The whole sequence ends with a brief moment of silence. Gosling turns around to look at the carnage of the past several minutes. He takes a deep breath, says “all right,” and then continues on. Joe Russo called this moment “our Community roots.” Anthony explained, “That was very important to us. Very rarely do you sit through a movie—between the square and the tram—where you’re going through that long a period of time of really high in octane action; aggressive action. So to be able to take an audience from that length of an intense experience, to the opposite of that, with a moment of quiet, was really fun for us.”
The Gray Man is streaming on Netflix now.