‘The Grey’ Movie Review
The Man vs. Nature genre has seen its fair share of movies, with the majority being unfortunate pieces of work. While the theme may come up a lot, films that are willing to take risks are the ones with the opportunity to prosper, becoming more than what viewers have come to expect. In terms of Joe Carnahan’s (Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team) The Grey these risks reap the rewards big time. I’ll rightfully admit I wasn’t expecting much from this film, which may have increased the payoff even more.
The Grey is a survival action thriller that takes place in the frigid Alaskan wastelands following a horrific plane crash. The survivors, led by John Ottway (Liam Neeson), quickly find out that surviving the plane crash was actually the easiest element. With conditions worsening, staying warm becomes a huge problem. Then, they must find food to survive. However, the real danger involves the vicious man-eating wolves that are constantly preying on the helpless, beaten, and frozen men.
For all intents and purposes, these men are fighting hell on earth, even if hell, in this case, is below freezing.
From the get-go, the frozen, and ruggedly bleak, tone is what sets the movie off on the right foot. Narc, my personal favorite Carnahan film, does a great job of this as well, which is what ultimately sets that movie apart from other crime thrillers. Likewise, the tone here creates an atmosphere that applies to the situation perfectly, creating a suspenseful thriller that borderlines the horror genre.
This tone is unrelenting throughout the film, much like the crazed wolves that want nothing more than to kill (not eat) the unwanted inhabitants. Ottway is flanked by some very unlikable and likable figures, which for the first half of the picture seem pretty unnecessary. However, the story does a good job of progressing the people that matter, and shedding the stuff that doesn’t. After recapping the film, you’ll sympathize with just about everyone.
Personally, I have a rule of thumb for action and/or thrillers. Simply, if a movie’s best scenes don’t involve action, the film can transcend mediocrity, finding a level of rewatchability that doesn’t involve cool explosions and fast-paced chases. Although The Grey isn’t necessarily a film that would rely on explosions and chases, the model still works here. Surprisingly, there are multiple instances without cliche action moments that far outweigh the rest of the film. In particular, Ottway’s blunt, but stunning, conversation with a wounded survivor right after the plane crash sticks out.
During the marketing for The Grey, it almost seemed like they created a character similar to Neeson’s work in Taken, making him seem like a rugged, but violent, renegade. Instead, Neeson portrays an emotional and broken man with almost nothing to live for, making his character actually more enjoyable. His fragile side comes to the surface in a pretty existential fashion, tying in well with the survivalistic theme.
While some will find the existential nature of the film a question, others will likely find it a declarative statement. This surely is a personal opinion, making anything I say now besides the point.
By viewing any pre-released trailers or posters, the perceptions preceding The Grey may make it seem like a mindless survival tale. Instead, we are left with a much better picture. The flaws, including the poorly animated wolves and gimmicky flashbacks, get outweighed by some pretty heavy stuff. The interesting juxtaposition between humanistic and animalistic qualities is surely unique. And even if none of this connects, at least the cold tone will create an experience that makes you never want to go anywhere cold ever again. I wouldn’t mind seeing more films like this, and am excited to have seen my first good film of 2012. There’s surely more to come, so here’s a good way to start off your year!