The Grey (starring Liam Neeson)
When I went into my screening of THE GREY, I didn’t know what to expect. The trailers show howling wolves and Liam Neeson taping a knife to his hand. I assumed a pretty fun flick with some wolf fighting. But limiting it to that explanation would be an inaccurate disservice when the film is ultimately a well-crafted, intense look at the human nature and spirit.
After a plane crash carrying a group of oil drillers, seven survivors find themselves fighting for their lives against the Alaskan elements. The characters range from a variety of 12 ANGRY MEN types. As we get to know these men to a very limited capacity we quickly realize the common thread of simply being human and deserving the right to live. We learn enough to make us care but not so much that it drowns out the greater story. Knowing only as much as the characters know about one another, some things are rightfully never completely explained. Surviving the freezing cold with limited supplies unfortunately isn’t the only challenge this small group of men must face. A pack of wolves defending their territory are on the hunt. As our heroes track across the terrain full of snow, wind, trees, rivers and cliffs they are constantly being chased. And whomever the wolves don’t kill, the other elements will.
It’s no spoiler that not all the men will survive and as each one comes to his demise, the real question isn’t necessarily if, but rather when, how, and who will be next.
Make no mistake the lead of the film is Ottway played by Liam Neeson and he owns every scene. Neeson is quickly rising the ranks as one of my favorite leading men in Hollywood. As the somewhat the reluctant leader Ottway is in a constant struggle with the diverse personalities he is surrounded by. His fight with a specific angry member parallels the alpha male leadership within the very wolf pack that is hunting them. Neeson commands the screen as strong and calculated, however human enough to never fully know the right answer for escape. His fears are equal to that of his peers and his thoughts of his wife literally take him out of reality on screen but figuratively keep him in it.
Director Joe Carnahan (who previously directed gems like NARC, SMOKING ACES and THE A-TEAM) does an amazing job creating the freezing look and feel of the film. With all the snow, wind, and costuming of the men bearded and bundled, the cold reaches through the screen and chills the bones.
Not to say you don’t ever see them, but like JAWS the use of the wolves are wisely hidden. Using howls, footprints, blood, glowing eyes in the dark and frantic camera shots of the woods, their threat is constant even without their physical appearance.
The pacing, perfectly balanced action and character development. Between the beginning plane wreck and a highflying cliff crossing, the few special effects were incredibly impressive. On more than a few occasions I found myself gripping my chair and curling my toes, as the constant intensity would become too overwhelming and stuck with me long after the film ended.
Ignore the picture above and the images that have been advertised for this film. While some (like me) will be pleasantly surprised by a much deeper and intense film, others may be disappointed by the final conclusion (stick around after the credits) and perhaps the type of action. However, without giving anything away, I personally think THE GREY earned the final moments. But the movie isn’t about that moment; the movie is about the journey of these men – their character, their drive, their fears, their will to live and their acceptance to die.