When the trailer for The Grey was released online it looked like a solid winter action, a fun evening out at the cinema in January. Nothing groundbreaking and, hey, you just might watch Liam Neeson punch a wolf. Is The Grey these things? No, it’s so much more.
Liam Neeson is Ottway, a man struggling to hold it together, deprived of contact with a loved one. The full movie starts out with him essentially dictating his suicide note and he very nearly eating the end of his rifle. For some reason or another he decides not to and continues his work as a sort of wilderness bodyguard for Alaskan oil drillers, protecting them against animal attacks (an element that comes into play heavily later on). While on board a plane on the way to a job, an electrical failure causes it to crash. In what must be one of the most convincing depictions of a what a plane crash must feel like their lives get turned completely upside down and it’s up to Ottway to utilize his knowledge and skills to keep the seven remaining survivors alive.
Scenes And Actors You Can’t Forget
As characters, the survivors themselves ultimately aren’t all that memorable, but the film builds their comradely and emotional connections well, thus earning the audience’s investment. That’s then paid off in the form of interesting character development. When they inevitably start dying, you will care and you won’t want them to. Aside from Ottway, Frank Grillo‘s Diaz proves to be the most interesting character, though he might not look it from the outset. A clever device to give insight into their lives before the incident is the collection of the fallen’s wallets, taken to remember them by.
Liam Neeson, a monolith of quality, towers above the rest of the cast. The way he switches gears, from death wish to survival mode, is glorious to behold. He takes control of the survivors just as he takes control of the movie. He’s the emotional center of the film and by far its most interesting character. You never once doubt that he’s completely capable of the feats he pulls of. Absolutely one of his finest performances (Neeson himself even puts it above Oskar Schindler on his favorites list).
A Man vs Wolves Survival Tale
The Grey turns out to be much more than a simple man vs. nature affair. It rather unexpectedly deals with such heavy themes as coming to terms with mortality and the driving force of the will to survive.
The dialogue is naturalistic, it’s very believable that this is exactly what a group of oil workers would speak like during their free time in the given situation. When things start getting dire and things turn to existential musings the dialogue avoids falling into too much melodrama. It’s actually quite profound at times. To round out, the script doesn’t strain one’s suspension of disbelief, and situations never feel contrived.
Joe Carnahan is proving himself to be a very interesting filmmaker. The ways he represents the survivors’ fluctuating mental state and manifestations of memories, however infrequently those scenes might occur, are very nice and inspired stylistic touches. The death of one character and a transition directly following the plane crash being the best of the bunch. Overall, he succeeds in creating a visceral thriller, where the terror is all but palpable and tension permeates the air. The sheer horror when the wolves appear, excellently crafted from computer generated and practical elements, is astounding. Those sequences are absolutely nerve-wracking and truly terrifying. The sense of isolation is no less scary.
The movie certainly earns its R-rating. There’s enough cursing to seal the deal but scenes of wolves mauling people and the aftermath of the plane crash are brutally uncompromising and accompanied by copious amounts of blood. It never ventures into the realm of over-indulgence, though, showing only what is absolutely necessary to deliver its message.
The Grey raises the bar for winter releases, no longer shall we be content with the year’s first month being a dumping ground for lesser films. The mumblings of an October re-release to take a stab at an awards run, on the back of Liam’s terrific performance, doesn’t even seem all that delusional. If you can stomach animal attacks you owe it to yourself to check out this survivalist tale.