The Grey– Movie Review
Lethal wild wolves attacks on humans are extremely rare, especially in North America; only two such attacks have ever been confirmed. These facts probably put The Grey, starring Liam Neeson, on the Humane Society’s naughty list this year: the movie shows more lethal wolf attacks occurring in the American wilderness within a few days than have actually happened in a century. I will hold onto these facts tightly as I try to fall asleep tonight after watching this thoroughly terrifying, brutal, and excellent film.
One of the few bad things I can say about The Grey is this: if you want a simple, uplifting, heroic survival movie, don’t come. The Grey lives up to its name, and then some. Far from being a simple action tale, it is closer to an existential horror film: it is a bleak, wrenching look at what we live and die for.
The film follows Neeson’s despondent character Ottaway as he and an arctic drilling team head home from a rig in the far north. Their plane crashes, and the survivors must fight the elements, and most graphically, a pack of angry wolves, to have any chance of getting back to society.
Director Joe Carnahan hasn’t had a film so gritty and moving since his breakout success, 2002′s Narc. Here, he knows exactly how to turn the unseen and confused into genuine terror. Wolf attacks are timed so well they might surprise even veteran horror fans; and the beasts are even more shocking when viewed only in glimpses of fang and blood as the camera tumbles. Similarly, Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi uses the edges of frames like knives. The plane crash that launches the plot is certainly not the most extravagant ever seen on the screen, but the view of Neeson upside down with just a glimpse of wilderness visible beneath him tells us vividly that the plane has been sheared open.
The cast is fine, bringing a relaxed reality to the absurd situation they find themselves in. Liam Neeson handles some awkward, macho dialogue much better than many action stars might have.
But the action sequences are more spread out than you might think; and in between is a lot of philosophizing. This gets pretty heavy handed, but doesn’t drag down the film too much. Overall, this unsentimental look at faith, life, and death elevates the film beyond its genre. As the audience watches many unheroic, prolonged deaths, and watches the survivors struggle to find reasons to continue, the film begins to present a theory of life-as-survival-movie: crash, get wounded, watch your friends die for no reason, march continuously down the worst possible path, question whether there is a God, and figure out your own reason to keep going. While a bit of a downer, it is an amazingly affecting movie.
Have you seen The Grey? What did you think?