MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action-Thriller/ Stars: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale, Ben Hernandez Bray, Anne Openshaw/ Runtime: 117 minutes
Submit for your approval the following nightmarish scenario: You find yourself both lost and completely isolated on a snow-filled mountain located somewhere in the state of Alaska and there is literally no trace of anything resembling civilization anywhere in sight. You also are left at the mercy of the elements including the bitter bite of the chilly wind as it continuously chills you to the bone through what remains of your clothes. Also you haven’t had any food in a good long while and your body is constantly on the edge of achieving that wonderful ailment known as hypothermia. At this point you’re most likely wondering just how in the world this could possibly get any more horrific. Well I’m glad you asked because there is one last detail that I forgot. A detail that takes the form of a roving gang of bloodthirsty and terrifying wolves that are dead set on hunting you down and making you their dinner. Horrific isn’t it? Well I assure you movie goers that that these are the feelings of both terror and fear due to not being in control which will most assuredly be inserted into anyone who watches the movie The Grey. Yet even though it has been seen by many as little more than Liam Neeson vs. Wolves, I would like to assure you that The Grey is so much more than that. Indeed this is also a beautifully filmed, wonderfully cast, and philosophical to some extent look at the power of the human spirit, and just what we as people are truly capable of when our back is up against the wall and survival all of a sudden doesn’t seem like the given that we all seemingly take it to be every single day.
The plot is as follows: The Grey tells the story of a man by the name of John Ottway. Ottway is a man who, due to events of a personal nature, has elected to make his living by working in the lovely state of Alaska as a sniper whose job is to hunt and get rid of any wolves that may try to assault the men who make up a team that is busy drilling for that long-valued human possession that is oil. Soon however, the job is done, and the team, with Ottway in tow, are boarding a plane that is headed for home except there also happens to be a wee bit of a blizzard blowing about outside. Suffice it to say that it should come as no surprise to learn then that the plane is not able to get through the weather, and proceeds to go down in what literally amounts to the middle of nowhere. Having been knocked out in the crash, Ottway soon enough wakes up, and after poking and prodding around the crash site, finds a group of about 6 fellow survivors by the names of Todd, Talget, Diaz, Hendrick, Burke, and Hernandez respectively and seeing that there’s strength in numbers, the men all decide to band together. Yet for these men the nightmare is only beginning. A fact that comes sharply into focus when, while out looking for wood for a fire, Ottway attempts to help a woman, but quickly and horrifyingly discovers that she has become dinner for a giant wolf that soon sets its sights on him. However even though the other men are able to rescue him, Ottway quickly explains that their ordeal is not over due to the fact that the odds are that they are occupying a space in the wolves’ territory and as such will be hunted until they either leave or are dead. Thus in order to escape the wolves’ wrath, Ottway manages to convince them that they have to keep moving despite the blizzard still raging otherwise the wolves will get them one way or the other. Thus with that in mind the race is on for this intrepid group: not only to seek the safety of civilization, but also to avoid becoming a roving pack of bloodthirsty animals’ dinner…..
Now I honestly think that Joe Carnahan was a fantastic choice to be at the helm for this particular survival story. This is because not only is Carnahan quite talented at bringing a particular kind of human drama to life. Not only that, but he also is very much attracted to working on films that deal with individuals who, despite being in conflict with both who they are as well as the environment they are in yet still attempt to function in the variety of ways that the world expects them to. Suffice it to say then that this is definitely right in Carnahan’s wheelhouse of skills. I say that because even though this is a survival story, there is still a significant degree of conflict between the men not only on the best way to make it out of the situation alive, but also conflict in themselves as well. A fact that really becomes evident as we learn that some of the men, including our main character, have things that they have done that they’re either not proud of or that they wish they could have done different. Indeed it’s not just a pack of vicious wolves that are these men’s enemy; it’s also feelings of regret, resignation, sadness, and defeat as well. Suffice it to say then that Carnahan does a wonderful job of taking these attributes within the men and utilizing them to ensure that none of the men in the cast are stereotypes, but feel more like actual people.
Speaking of….I really truly feel that Liam Neeson’s turn as main character of sorts Ottway in this really fits what this character needs to be, and also does a wonderful job in ensuring this movie succeeds. Indeed, as portrayed by Neeson, Ottway is a guy who, despite wishing for death to come for him at one point, now finds himself having to struggle to keep this group of men, himself included, alive from both the elements as well as the wolves. Plus the fact that some of the men are continuing to butt heads with him rather than work towards the common goal of survival, most certainly does not make this set of circumstances any easier to deal with. Yet even with all of that riding on his character, Neeson still manages to give a winning performance and in the process actually gives the character moments of humanity courtesy of a past filled with pain and tragedy that is slowly revealed to us courtesy of both flashbacks and mirages. As for the rest of the men in the group, I also feel that not only do they all give good performances as well, but I really respected how the movie chooses to develop who they are as people through not only what they say around the campfires, but also in the control conflicts that they go through. Indeed they may not be as fully developed as Ottway, but the rest of the men still nevertheless do earn our respect and our sympathy for the situation they are in thus making the moments where a man is lost be it to nature or to the wolves that much more heartbreaking.
Now this is a movie which, regardless of the stark and desolate locale where it takes place, is still quite stunning and mesmerizing to look upon. Indeed the instances that are made up simply of nothing more than silent snowflakes falling through the sky and you can hear nothing more than the breath of the characters is absolutely fascinating while the vicious moments of blizzards and the threat of a whiteout will most assuredly have you on the edge of your seat and your knuckles white with tension and suspense. Indeed this is a locale that is most assuredly stunning and gorgeous, but at the same time is also that if you are not ready for it it will promptly tear you apart with zero hesitation and regrets whatsoever. Speaking of tearing you apart…I also feel that the movie’s antagonist aka the wolf pack is fantastically used in this movie. Indeed even their howls, used quite frequently during the second and third parts of the film, manage to do a wonderful job of chilling the hairs on the back of your neck and are a frightening reminder of just what this group is up against. Yet even though the instances where the pack actually does wind up brutally going on the attack do wind up feeling a bit too predictable, they are at the same time so barbaric and so bloodthirsty that the concept of if you saw them coming from a mile away doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you will be on your edge of your seat and you will not be able to look away no matter how hard you try….
All in all The Grey may utilize a simplistic narrative formula, but the method in which it is brought to life is truly well done. Indeed there are not that many films out there which are able to match the dread and thrills that are conjured up by the director and filmmaking team and Liam Neeson manages, in typical fashion, to yet again provide audiences with a spine-tingling turn that also comes equipped with raw, human emotion and kick-butt action. Indeed, compared to quite a few thrillers of its ilk, I actually discovered that The Grey actually gave me better thrills and left me on the edge of my seat more often than not. Thus when you mix together jaw-dropping visuals, chilling fear and terror, severe cases of both frostbite and wolf-bite all around, Neeson being his usual action-hero self, as well as a riveting examination on what it takes to survive when all the odds seem dead set against the idea, The Grey is a riveting sit that I can easily tell you to give a try movie goers. Just don’t watch it on a plane ride to or from Alaska, but if you do just remember: “Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day”….on a scale of 1-5 I give The Grey a 3.5 out of 5.