By: Lawrence Foster
Rating: 9 out of 10
While the age-old-struggle works well in literature, the translation to the big screen has been rough.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been movies that feature man vs. nature that aren’t enjoyable (“Cast Away” for instance), but what is lacking in those films is a sense of hopelessness. Far too often, even though the deck is stacked against the people on screen, there is never a feeling of “They have no chance.”
That is not the case in “The Grey,” which pits a group of plane crash survivors against harsh winter elements and a pack of territorial wolves. From the moment the plane crash sequence begins, until the last scene, “The Grey” keeps its audience on the edge of its seat because they know the odds of survival are slim at best.
The film is about a group of oil-drilling men whose plane crashes. While the entire ensemble cast has a chance to shine at some point, the film is anchored by the great Liam Neeson.
Neeson’s character, Ottway, is depressed at the beginning of the film and later on it is discovered that Ottway came a pulled-trigger away from ending his life.
When the plane crashes, however, Ottway becomes the leader. One of the best aspects of “The Grey” is the transformation of Ottway’s character. He goes from seconds away from ending his own life, to doing anything he can to help his co-workers and himself survive. That will to live is apparent in all of the characters who survive the crash and is the fuel that drives the film.
Some people may be disappointed by that and I can understand that because the previews and commercials for “The Grey” make it seem like Neeson will be going all “Taken” on the wolves and nature. Neeson does have those moments and the action sequences are spine-tingling, but the film is so much more than that.
The moment when I realized that “The Grey” is unique came shortly after the plane crash. Ottway and a few other survivors are in the hull of the plane, searching for more survivors when they find a man who is bleeding profusely. Ottway comes over to the man and instead of sprouting off a Hollywood-cliché of how the man will survive, Ottway tells him that he is going to die. On paper, that seems like a horrible thing to do, but Ottway does it in a very touching way: He tells him to think of someone that he loves and to let that person “take” him. It is a very emotional moment even though the audience has no connection to the dying man. At that point it becomes obvious that “The Grey” isn’t what I expected it to be.
After all of the survivors of the crash come together, Ottway finds a wolf eating a corpse and is able to scare it off with the help of some of the other survivors. That isn’t the last of the four-legged baddies, however, as Ottway explains to the survivors that wolves are very territorial and that they will have to leave the supposed safety of the plane.
As the survivors attempt to escape and leave the 30-mile radius of the wolves’ camp, they start to die off, and that takes a toll on the audience. As each survivor dies or is killed, we realize that there probably isn’t a happy ending in store for any of the men. Even with that knowledge, you root for them all to survive because the will to live that they display on screen touches you when you watch and you find yourself rooting them on. That is the mark of a powerful movie.
As always, I won’t go into the plot in any more detail, because I don’t want to spoil anything. What I will comment on though is the ending of the film. Without giving anything away, I can say that it is a love or hate ending. I for one thought it ended the way it should, but a few friends of mine had the movie spoiled by the ending.
My only real complaint with the film is that it can be too heavy-handed at times with its discussion of why God is doing this to them. A bit of that type of discussion would have been fine because I would imagine in a situation like that, it would be a question and topic that is discussed. The problem is there is too much of it for me. Moderation here would have been ideal.
“The Grey” is easily the best movie of 2012 so far and it will take a lot to topple it. It blends action, a riveting narrative and characters that relate to the audience into one amazing film. If you are going to watch a movie in the coming weeks, make sure it is “The Grey.”