I should start off my review of The Grey,
Joe Carnahan's latest film, with a rather important disclaimer. The Independent Critic is the financial sponsor for the animal welfare blog WolfPreservation.com
. While it is not a blog that I actually have anything to do with, at least not beyond the occasional film review contribution, it is a blog I proudly sponsor and a cause that I proudly believe in.
Now then, back to The Grey. The Grey
stars Liam Neeson as Ottway, a roughneck who works as a marksman at a remote oil-drigging outpost in remote Alaska. It's the kind of barren, brutal location that only the most desperate souls dare go, either because the lure of big money is simply impossible to ignore or simply because they've established themselves as unable or unwilling to exist in any semblance of the real world. It's difficult to decide exactly where Ottway lies within that scale, but a scene very early in the film establishes him as a desperate man on the brink of suicide when the familiar howl of a wolf seemingly wakes him from his psychological stupor and he reverses his thought pattern long enough to commit to survival at least in that very moment.
The following day, Ottway and a group of men are aboard a flight to Anchorage for reasons never really revealed. In a simple yet harrowingly filmed scene, their plane crashes and when all is said and done seven men have survived.
It appears that the men have inadvertently landed smack dab in the middle of prime wolf territory, and the wolves involved don't appear in the mood to be hospitable. The film that follows is, incredibly surprisingly, an almost meditative video essay on life, death, bravery and heroism. Ottway becomes the leader, ahem, of the pack and the Carnahan's production essentially becomes Ottway's journey in trying to lead Talget (Dermot Mulroney), Henrick (Dallas Roberts), Flannery (Joe Anderson), a resistant Diaz (Frank Grillo) and others to safety without succumbing to the environment or the ever patient wolves that are following their every move.
While it's not likely that anyone will be calling The Grey
a masterpiece, it is by far writer/director Joe Carnahan's most satisfying and effective thriller. Carnahan is the same guy who gave us such films as Smokin' Aces, Narc and The A-Team,
none of which are exactly stellar cinematic calling cards though Narc
certainly showed promise. There's something about The Grey
that really works, and much of it lies in Carnahan's willingness to slow down the film and to allow the suspense to slowly simmer throughout the film's running time. Sure there are scenes of terrific impact, usually sudden and quite brutal, but a good portion of The Grey
is almost contemplative in the way that Carnahan doesn't simply allow someone to be attacked before moving on to the next action set-up. Instead, Carnahan lingers with his well drawn out characters and gives their fates, whether they live or die, equal impact and lasting presence.
Liam Neeson has been on quite the acting detour since the sudden and tragic death of his wife in a skiing accident not long ago, a fact that for those familiar with Neeson's story that will linger in the psyche' as he seems, at times, to be putting forth an almost psychotherapeutic motion picture here that reflects on universal issues while dealing with the traumatic impact of sudden loss. I'm not quite sure I'd call this a terrific performance, but there's no question that the nearly 60-year-old Neeson provides tremendous substance to his sort of gruff heroics here.
A nearly unrecognizable Dermot Mulroney is also quite good here, embodying the family man Talget as an almost grounding influence for these characters and this film. The rest of the ensemble cast also shines in characters that in most films would be nothing more than cardboard cutouts.
The camera work by Masanobu Takayanagi is mesmerizing, beautifully capturing the desolation, desperation, beauty and brutality of both the landscape and this journey. Marc Streitenfeld's original music is as striking as the camera work, at times turning the words spoken and the fight scenes unfolding into poetry-like imagery.
This is not to say that all is well with The Grey,
its script often turning towards the implausible and too often its story unfolding with nary an explanation. While it's terrific that Carnahan lingers with his characters, there are also times when the film threatens to plod along or to dissolve into a dialogue heavy metaphysical essay. Fans of WolfPreservation.com, as well, are likely to be tremendously concerned about the film's depiction of wolves as extreme predators, though it could also be argued that Carnahan does a surprisingly effective job at drawing the comparison between man and wolf as not truly being that far apart. Depictions of wolf behavior are unquestionably played out with tremendous dramatic license.
An entertaining popcorn flick for those who appreciate stark suspense thrillers, The Grey
stays with you long after the closing credits have rolled by and you've left the theater. It's not so much the words that have lasting impact, but the images and the unforgettable presence of meditative heroics symbolized by Liam Neeson.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic