The Grey Movie Review – Let’s face it. Most of us wouldn’t last one day if we were stranded in a frozen Alaskan wasteland. We’d be the guy that wanders off from the pack and gets picked off by the monster. We would be wolf meat. Unless we had Liam Neeson to motivate us into a plan. On the surface, “The Grey” is a survival movie about man versus nature, about survivors of an airplane crash in the Alaskan wilderness. But underneath, the film is about having faith and finding it in the most desperate of situations.
Liam Neeson plays Ottway, a hunter hired to protect ex cons from wildlife working at an isolated Alaskan oil refinery. It’s not much of an existence, as he flashes back to a better life and a woman he loved that left him. Having nothing really left to live for, he boards a plane with the men heading back to Anchorage. But when the plane crashes, and Ottman is one of only 7 survivors, they quickly have to figure out how to survive against weather, altitude, hunger, and huge, encroaching timberwolves. The manly action keeps the suspense going, and amidst the gore, there is still humor thrown in from the gruff characters. There’s a moment where Neeson has to tell another survivor that he’s a fool if he’s not scared. After being completely beaten down, one after another, he’s absolutely right. Any machismo that the men have at first is waisted away through sheer desperation.
What separates this movie from a slasher horror movie where characters get picked off one by one, is that we come to care about the whether they want to live or die. Frank Grillo plays Diaz, a particular jerk who goes from not helping and hating the plan, to realizing that life might not get any better than living for something. Dermot Mulroney, almost unrecognizable with a beard and glasses, plays a more calculating survivalist who’s memories of his daughter are his driving force. But it’s Neeson, who’s character has nothing to live for at the beginning, who learns he has the most to live for as the movie progresses. Ottway discovers faith, whether in a higher power or in controlling his own fate, which allows him to make the choice to fight.
Director Joe Carnahan (the A-Team) crafts the story and the action while personalizing this unlikely group of nobodies, that the rest of the world would just as soon forget. The movie is wonderfully shot by Masanobu Takayanagi, who transforms locales from British Columbia into a harsh Alaskan terrain. Props also to the effects team which allude to the constant threat and presence of wolves, while barely seeing them. The hulking mystery of these creatures is pure nail biting anxiety, and it really makes you root for the survivors. The only thing that was a little hokey was the sound editing of the wolves howling; several times creating a chatty chorus akin to monkeys, and suddenly stopping for an alpha male’s solo growling. It was a little too staged for me, but still effectively creepy.
“The Grey” keeps the action going and avoids survival movie clichés enough to make you think about your own survival, and maybe even question what choice you would make if presented with a life or death situation.
3 1/2 snarling wolves (out of five)