Jan 30 2012

Unreal Movie Review: The Grey

Published by at 12:00 pm under Movies,Reviews

It’s been a while since I’ve felt the need to use the world “manly” to describe a movie. The last such occasion was for The Expendables, which crammed so much testosterone into every frame I walked out of the theater with a fresh coat of chest hair.

But while The Expendables was traditionally “manly” in an obvious, chest thumping, gun blasting way, The Grey is a far more understated way of demonstrating physical, and often more importantly mental, toughness.

A plane crash leaves only seven men alive in the frozen tundra of Alaska, all employees of an oil company attempting to head home. Injured and freezing, they must make their way south, battling the cold and a far more immediate foe: wolves.

I was cold just watching this.

The wolf pack targets the men as intruders on their hunting grounds and only one of them, Ottoway (Liam Neeson) has any guess of how to deal with them. He was a sniper meant to hunt and kill wolves that would attack the men working on the pipeline, but now with no gun and little equipment, he finds it much harder to do his job.

In a way, the film is very formulaic. There’s no end to the amount of horror/survival films where different personalities are picked off over the course of the film, meeting gruesome ends as they do so. The Grey has a whole host of ways to kill its cast, and one by one as they start to fall  it seems like you might have seen this all before.

But the film, unlike its similarly themed brethren, goes beyond the stereotype, and manages to be about something greater than trying to stay alive. Rather, it’s about what it is to die. The film mixes in philosophy, psychology and even religion with its violence and mayhem, and there are a  number of particularly memorable death scenes that are not merely about how brutal the kill shot is. After the plane first crashes, Ottoway holds a man’s hand as he dies, stares into his eyes and tells him it will come over him like wave and he should let his daughter lead him there. It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye, and there are several similarly impactful emotional moments throughout the course of the film.

Don’t challenge The Neeson.

It’s interesting to see that this film is from Joe Carnahan, who most recently directed the rather bad A-Team movie (also with Neeson), and before that, Smokin’ Aces, which is one of my favorite pulp action films. But The Grey is far more quiet and nuanced than either of those films, and it’s the most I’ve seen a filmmaker actually mature before my eyes in such a short time. It’s fantastically shot in the wilderness, and Carnahan gets amazing performances out of not only Neeson, but the rest of his cast members who are completely unknown to most.

The film also does a good job of making the wolves the constant, looming threat. I’ve seen many films recently where CGI wolves have made the entire rest of the film ridiculous (Frozen, and of course, Twilight), but here they’re mostly left in the shadows. But when they do appear it’s not an immersion breaking experience, and they feel like a genuine, imminent threat. Also a nice touch is the running wolf metaphor that has Neeson’s Ottoway the leader of his human pack, and having to deal with all the issues an Alpha must face, including insubordination and survival.

Most of the people who showed up to this film wanted to see Liam Neeson box a wolf with broken bottles on his knuckles, but the resulting film is a lot deeper than a purely macho winter action adventure. It actually reminded me of Drive in a way, where you imagine you’re walking into a certain type of action film, but actually find something much more introspective and intelligent.

That said, this is still awesome.

It’s stupid to say that The Grey is my favorite film of the year, barely one month in, but in a period known for crap releases, it’s certainly a pleasant surprise, and I think it’s going to stick with me for some time to come.

4.5 out of 5 stars





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7 responses so far

  • nickH

    I enjoyed it and getting to see Neeson punch a wolf in it’s stupid face is a good way to start the year.

  • Bad Acid

    Sounds a bit like Pitch Black… so I may have to check it out. Just saw Taken finally last night, haven’t seen Drive yet either.

  • Metallimetal

    4.5/5 Stars… Seems a bit high to me, but other than that, I can’t really argue against anything that you said about the film. To be honest, I thought it was going to be a little more action-packed than it ended up being, but I was happy with the way it played out. As if the plane crash wasn’t bad enough, let’s just throw in a freezing, snow-filled area with little to no cover, and just for fun, wolves. To say that The Grey really conveyed a sense of desperation, well, it just might be an understatement. Even if at times the situations seemed somewhat far-fetched, I still felt that it was grounded in its believability.

    While it’s certainly a movie worth seeing, I couldn’t picture this movie picking up any Oscar nominations (save for something in the Best Sound category) next year. I mean, if Drive was snubbed, then The Grey has absolutely no shot.

  • shawnh

    If you stay thru the credits you’ll see some extra footage of the fight at the end (it’s very short though).

  • Deke

    I was initially disappointed when it cut, but even minutes after I walked out of the theater I liked it more and more. The movie has been on my mind for the last couple of days, and a movie like that doesn’t come along very often. And even though I saw it a couple days ago, thinking about the way the ending flowed with Liam’s character, the music, the poem, and the final frame still sends chills down my spine.

    Like you said, the previews were misleading. It was not the movie I was expecting to see, but I’m so satisfied that I did.

    And it’s mentioned by Shawnh, but wait until after the credits roll! I unfortunately didn’t and found out about the scene later that night online. I think the credits rolling would have given me enough time to take in the ending and would have been incredibly effective. Alas, I had to read about it instead.

  • Deke

    Great review btw!

  • Lola

    Neeson has played as a Jedi Master, Trained the Batman, went half-way around the world to kickass who kidnapped his daughter, released the Kraken, saved a small group of Jewish people, lead the A-Team , father of the Hero of Vault 101 and now punching wolves after a crashed plane? damn! this guy is pure badass

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