Movie Review ~ The Grey

The Facts:

Synopsis: In Alaska, an oil drilling team struggle to survive after a plane crash strands them in the wild. Hunting the humans are a pack of wolves who see them as intruders.

 Stars: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, James Badge Dale, Joe Anderson, Frank Grillo

Director: Joe Carnahan

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Metal Fabricator – Wyatt Soutzo

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Man vs Nature flicks come in all shapes and sizes yet they all can’t have an actor like Neeson (so large and in charge)and a strong script to get themselves out of the wilderness of plot cliches.  Thankfully, Neeson and said strong script manages to save The Grey from being a run-of-the mill survival film, turning it into a taut thriller.  The movie also takes its time with our characters so there is some compassion for their plight as they trek through Alaskan tundra fending off the cold, a pack of wolves, and eachother.  It all adds up to an exciting, if imperfect, film.

This movie is a chiller in every sense of the word – more than once I instinctively found myself reaching for my coat/gloves/scarf when watching the whiteout conditions after a plane crash (staged with great reservation but still frightening) strands seven men in the middle of the Alaskan outskirts.  Compounding their survival is a pack of wolves that are stalking their every move and waiting to strike should they ever leave their guard down.  It just so happens that Neeson is employed at an oil refinery killing wolves that get too close to the workers so he is well aware of the danger that they all face.  There are obvious parallels between the wolf pack and pack of men that the film doesn’t try to ignore.  Relationships develop that emulate the alpha mentality that exist in the animal kingdom.  With Neeson as their wolf-expert leader, the men must find help…but are they headed towards safety or deeper into the wolves den? 

What elevates this from being too much of a downer is the focus on the interactions between the men rather than the terror/violence that lurks just outside of their vision.  Several times near the middle I forgot the wolf element entirely…I found these men interesting and didn’t know how it would all turn out.  At nearly two hours, it would have been easy to cut out this extraneous character development in favor of a more slick film – but that movie would have been a disaster.  By taking time to explore some deeper questions on survival, fear, and bravura there is a feeling that you are watching a higher class of film.   

That’s not to see that director Carnahan skimps on the violence.  There are bloody attacks that don’t seem as excessive as the endless profanity the men spew forth.  I’m not one to shy away from crude language but when it sounds out of place I have to cry ‘foul’.  I was a fan of Carnahan’s break through film, Narc, but have been less than impressed with each subsequent film.  Here he returns to a movie grounded in reality with real characters facing real danger.  He’s assembled a good cast, most of them unrecognizable under their scruff and layers of winter clothing.  Still, you always know who is talking and aren’t confused as to who doesn’t escape the jaws of the beast. 

Originally slated to star Bradley Cooper, I can’t imagine the movie being as grounded as it is without Neeson.  He has a stately air about him that doesn’t scream action figure, yet he has slowly developed into a solid genre actor.  With Taken, Unknown, and now The Grey, Neeson gives his character a back-story that shows in his every grimace and stance.  His role in The Grey is possibly his most haunted yet and as the film unspools we gradually learn what led this man to the end of the earth. 

I do recommend this film on the strength of many elements it gets right that this genre often gets wrong.  Neeson and Co. are involving to watch and stick with right up until the last frame.  I’d advise you to bring a jacket into the theater with you though…it will keep you warm and can at least offer you something to hide behind.

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