Friday, January 27, 2012

A Reel Review: THE GREY

The only mistake director Joe Carnahan makes with THE GREY is this: He allowed it to be marketed as a brainless action thriller; a fist fighting thumper with Liam Neeson punching wolves, leaving many to dismiss it early on as WOLF HARD. In reality, nothing can be further from the truth. THE GREY is a thoughtful and philosophical character drama, packed with emotion and full of humanity. Sure, we get to see Qui-Gon duke it out with some nasty wolves, but that is just one small part of Carnahan’s opus of survival and human instincts.

Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a big-game hunter/sniper hired by an Alaskan oil company to pick-off the wolves that are prone to attack the oil workers while they maintain the pipelines. Ottway, having lost his beloved wife, is severely depressed and is ready to kill himself. Distracted just when he is ready to pull the trigger (quite cleverly), he boards a plane with the work crew, which eventually crashes into the wilderness. Ottway, the only one with knowledge of the wilderness and the wolves, pulls together the few survivors and desperately leads them through the wilderness while fending off attacks from the vicious wolfpacks.

THE GREY starts off very strong. The depressed and tormented Ottway snags you right away and never lets go. His sadness is never over the top, but still powerful courtesy of an outstanding performance by Neeson (more on that soon). When the plane crashes and Ottway has to pull himself and the survivors together, we see a man who now gets to struggle with life and death on the inside and the out.

While Ottway is the main character, THE GREY allows for some excellent character studies of the survivors. They are roughneck oil workers, with a milkshake of personalities and backgrounds; there is the wiseass, the faithful, the philosophical, the humble and the asshole. Carnahan takes all these traits, throws them into the meatgrinder and lets the pieces fall where they may; with a tormented Ottway/Neeson thrown in for good measure.

As great as the character drama is, the wolf attacks manage to transcend it. The packs are vicious and bloodthirsty, but Carnahan is wise enough to show just enough gore and violence without going overboard. The way the wolves stalk the survivors is executed like a well-timed, well-paced horror movie; it has plenty of surprises and loads of tension that will give you cramps. It is a masterful piece of filmmaking. Carnahan also pulls off the plane crash in such a frightening manner it’s enough to scare anyone away from an airplane for years.

Shot and cut with a gritty real-world style, THE GREY feels like it was shot real-time with a hand-camera and always has you in the middle of the action. Through all the wolf attacks and characters, Carnahan still manages to make a clever and thoughtful comparison to a wolf pack and a pack of humans; statements about alpha-males, survival instincts, and just who the real animals in the woods really are.

This Blogger has no doubt about Liam Neeson in THE GREY; it is the absolute finest performance of his career. While he may be remembered best for characters like Oskar and Rob, it is in his Ottway where he delivers his most powerful and emotional punch. Tormented and heartbroken, Neeson sells it perfectly, and the scene where he curses the heavens is so good it’s hard to watch. It’s also worth mentioning that the supporting cast in Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts and Frank Grillo are also excellent.

The ending feels like a bit of a cop-out, but after careful thought makes perfect sense when thinking about where Ottway came from and what was motivating him. The bigger question THE GREY asks of you is this: when in a crisis, who will you be? Will you be the panicked, the angry, the fearful, or will you be Liam Neeson?



  1. awesome review.. I kind of want to see it again. Any movie that pits men against the wild fascinates me. I love to put myself in the situations as they unfold and ask myself if I could handle it, or what I would do. Most of the time I don't really get all that flustered. This movie flustered the hell out of me, I take it one step further, it scared me. Not just the plane crash that made me shit my pants but the aftermath of surviving the wolves and the elements. Despite all out technology and machines we can still be humbled in a flash. What type of man has our society created?

  2. Just a reminded....sit through all of the credits to see the actual final (and very short) scene!

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