By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 8 out of 10
The classic conflict of man vs. beast is difficult to translate in cinema. Most of the time, depicting a man against the most primal of creatures fall victim to cliché and stereotypes. Then a movie like The Grey comes along. The Grey is a film that is anchored by its primary star, Liam Neeson. Although it may not play out as advertised, this is still one hell of a ride that will leave you shaken at the end. The Grey is just as much man vs. himself as man vs. beast.
Ottway (Neeson) is a security officer at an Alaskan oil refinery. When his plane home crashes en route, he leads a group of survivors into the wintery forest, where they find that they are being stalked by wolves. It’s a race against time, nature and their own humanity as the group is stalked and hunted with hope quickly dwindling.
When the first trailer came out for this film, my immediate reaction was that it would involve Neeson just slashing the hell out of CG wolves. As I started to read more into the film, I realized that director Joe Carnahan, the man behind The A-Team, took more of a classic survival/thriller approach to this film. This movie is Carnahan’s greatest work. It works perfectly; this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.
The first 15 minutes introduces us to several of the characters, but mostly Ottway, who we quickly learn a great deal about in the opening monologue. This is where the film detracts from what may be expected. The group of seven characters that survive the crash have so much depth that you can’t help but care about them, they are not simply wolf feed. Even when they are being attacked by wolves you can’t help but wish against their vicious death, but their survival.
Let’s just make this clear, this is Neeson’s movie. His character from beginning to end is the most perplexing but the most entertaining to watch. The jump he takes from the beginning of the movie to his role as leader directly after the plane crash is stunted but strong. In one scene, Neeson talks a man through his own death. The scene just simply seemed so real. It was strong and you could see the pain of the scene and his relationship with this character in Neeson’s eyes. I’ll draw the line; if this movie came out around Thanksgiving, Neeson would have been nominated for an Oscar.
Now let’s get to the supporting actors with fur all over. The wolves have been placed as the major part of this film, but in many ways, they are simply a product of the atmosphere of the film. Sure, the wolves are responsible for much of the death in this movie, but they are not the only cause. The animals look realistic enough, as a solid mix between CGI and puppetry works out pretty well. There are several scenes, including a fantastic standoff in the middle of the night, that really send chills down your spine.
As the movie goes on, it takes a philosophical shift that will either lift the eyebrows of viewers or cause them to scoff and immediately dislike the film. It is an expected turn, the way that the film constantly shifts and the unfair ways that some of the characters are killed leads the viewer to question the morality and the reasoning behind the events in the film. Once the characters start to question religion and what inhuman events are at work during this quest for survival, you feel their desperation and understand why they are questioning fate.
Now, don’t take that as my way of saying that this movie is not epic. There is plenty of action, suspense and thrills. From the first wolf attack until the end of the movie there is never a sense of calm. The animals come out of everywhere and no conversation is sacred to the wolves. By the end of the movie, you are sitting, anticipating and waiting for the wolves to jump out at the characters. That sense of unpredictability and constant need for attentiveness makes this movie a thrill ride. Don’t be surprised if you are gripping the seat holders halfway in.
People that are expecting Neeson to jump into a pack of wolves and fight them off with his bare hands are going to be greatly disappointed. That is not what this film is about. It is about the strength of the human spirit, how far it will stretch and what it takes to sever the will to survive. All of the men that survive the plane crash have their moment, which is rare in this time and age of pedal-to-the-metal action. The end of the film, as I experienced, drew jeers and boos, but I thought that it ended the way it was supposed to.
The Grey was advertised poorly, but those that walk in are going to see easily the best movie of 2012 thus far. The Grey is exciting, moving, well-acted, and keeps you locked in from beginning to end. More wolf-punching would have been nice, but the lingering effects this movie will have on you will keep you thinking for hours.