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Pages to Screen: The Gray Man

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In this edition of Pages to Screen, I delve into Netflix’s new actioner The Gray Man and the book by the same name by Mark Greaney. Read on to discover which is worth your time: the book, the movie, or perhaps…both?


What separates the first Gray Man novel from similar tough guy thriller/action-adventure books I have read is the sheer grit of the narrative, especially the opening scenes. It’s immediately clear the protagonist is an assassin in a harsh, morally gray situation, and he’s not a “nice guy”, at least not in any traditional sense. However, Greaney does an excellent job characterizing his gun-for-hire as a person with a code of conduct that, while perhaps questionable, is as uncompromising as his work ethic. The characterization is subtle, and the Gray Man is purposefully left as mostly an enigma, but we are given a sense early on that although his moral compass might be skewed, he has one. As the story progresses, Greaney shows us through his protagonist’s actions that the Gray Man is not an immoral baddie like the numerous opponents set against him. We also learn he has a soft spot for a child he once protected.

While Greaney’s characterization might be subtle, his action scenes are not. Indeed, many of the action scenes have a cinematic quality. I could easily see many of them playing out on the big screen. The movie would have been better served by more closely following novel. The story is tighter, the action scenes more exciting and often unique, and of course, the characterization is well done. This is all to say the book is far better than a movie, despite the A-list cast and top-shelf directors.

So which is more worth your time—the movie or the book? I enjoyed both. The Gray Man is a good book and a decent action movie. The movie’s second half kept me pleasantly entertained, even if most of the acting and action were miles high over the top. Don’t get me wrong, the book is better than the movie, but I likely won't read more Gray Man novels. I think there are other thriller tough guys out there I’d rather read about—Lucas Davenport, Will Robie, and Jack Reacher come to mind. If Netflix makes another Gray Man movie, I’ll watch it but I will hope they adhere more closely to the source material.


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