5 March 2012
2012, 117mins, 15
Director: Joe Carnahan
Writer (s): Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
Cast includes: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Anne Openshaw, Frank Grillo
UK Release Date: 27th January 2012
“The Grey” is so much more than the man vs. nature flick promotional materials seem determined to suggest. Driven by a spectacularly powerful Liam Neeson performance, the film earns its thriller chops comfortably - but then pleasantly seeks to gift the audience a little extra. Questions of faith, lost love and sanity are all prevalent in the picture, director Joe Carnahan (last seen guiding “The A-Team” to the big screen in 2010) endowing the movie with a subtle yet tangible sense of humanity, focusing on the psychological conditions of men in peril rather than direct interactions with the predators stalking them.
Hired as a sharpshooter to pick-off fringe predators at an Alaskan Petroleum outfit, Ottway (Liam Neeson in cracking form) is numb, heartbroken and thoroughly lost in the world. When a plane carrying Ottway and his peers crashes into the barren wilderness; the men are forced to confront death immediately, starvation and freezing temperatures ravaging their survival prospects. Making matters worse are a band of hungry wolves, desperate to protect their territory and to snack on the stranded humans. Using his measured outlook and knowledge of the surrounding wildlife, Ottway is able to navigate the environment and sidestep any initial danger, but as the days fade on, the men’s optimism fades and the howls behind them grow ever louder.
“The Grey” features some ace sound design and cinematography, Carnahan depicting the wilderness as a brutal, beautiful hell on earth. Blizzards rip their way across the screen and the wolves are envisioned as calculating yet graceful killers, “The Grey” treating its antagonists with respect and consideration. However when not punctured by wails and storms, “The Grey” is actually a surprisingly contemplative and mellow watch, finding moments of solace in painfully silent dream sequences and through the massive spaces in which the story unfolds. As with most of Carnahan’s recent work (“The A-Team” deserves another mention here) the action direction is aggressive and often kinetic, but in contrast to the stillness of other segments it feels apt. When the dogs come barking or when the icy grip of the landscape comes into effect Carnahan ramps his camerawork into a frenzied pitch, yet when “The Grey” requires steady and focused silence, the filmmaker obliges. It’s a wise choice and one that suggests a major growth in Carnahan as a storyteller.
Neeson anchors the film perfectly, bringing a committed and organic intensity to the part. The actor conveys sadness and doubt brilliantly, everything from his opening monologue to the fitting final words hitting a tragic but compelling note. The rest of the cast feel a little like meat in the room (or frosty forest?), although there are a selection of choice interactions which help bolster Neeson’s already sharp contribution. The external characters feel tacked on to help launch musings on religion and loneliness, but in context these themes are suitable and relevant. Much the same as last year’s “Drive” this is a film that forms a strong leading figure without resorting to excessive dialogue, instead utilizing crafty imagery and flexible acting to provide the goods.
The “Jaws with Paws” label advertisers seem determined to hammer home isn’t ideal, but there are some seriously tense animal encounters. The wolves never feel like characters, instead “The Grey” paints them as an alien menace, haunting the outskirts of the frame with pace and horrifying yammers. Some of the CGI looks dodgy, but Carnahan compensates by keeping the cuts fast and the set-pieces frantic, only occasionally staring into the eyes of his villains. “The Grey” occasionally leans a little heavily on the jump scare trend (although a few of these boo moments are memorable), but other sequences (a vertigo inducing scramble from a cliff and the poignant finale amongst them) are reward enough for viewers seeking more substantive thrills.
“The Grey” concludes in a mature and mesmerising fashion, the movie rarely stuttering over its weighty 117 minute runtime. As an intelligent and emotional examination of people forced to fight for their lives “The Grey” is a tremendous success, proof that not every modern creature feature has to pander toward the moronic conventions of the genre.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012