The Grey (2011) / Adventure-Action
MPAA rated R for violence, disturbing content, bloody images, and pervasive language
Running time: 117 min.
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Nonso Anozie, Joe Anderson, Ben Bray, James Badge Dale, Anne Openshaw
Director: Joe Carnahan
Screenplay: Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (based on his short story, "Ghost Walker")
Review published January 27, 2013
The premise is simple: Workers on an oil rig in the wilderness region of Alaska crash in their airplane transport in an area many miles away from the nearest semblance of human civilization. Without adequate food or medical supplies, the men become fodder from the wild arctic wolves who have laid dominion over the territory, and want this new threat dead. It's kill or be killed, as the surviving men try to wind their way back to get assistance, but with the wolves on their trail, making it out alive grows ever more bleak with each passing hour. They do have a trick or two up their sleeve, thanks to the presence of an an alpha male of their own -- an oil-company employee sharpshooter named Ottway (Neeson, Unknown) -- whose specific job it is to kill wolves who seek to mess with their installation. However, thoughts of suicide, anguish over a lost love, has seeped into Ottway's soul, and his grip on the reality around him is tenuous at best.
The Grey is a simple tale, stretched out from an original short story, with a horror movie backbone, but succeeds in drawing out suspense and the semblance of depth thanks to director Joe Carnahan's (Smokin' Aces, Narc) existential and psychologically motivated telling. The main interest is in watching a bunch of strong, hearty men completely humbled by the natural environs around them. No matter how hardened they think they are, the men are no match without being surrounded by the comforts of civilization. In a way, it is similar to Jaws in its basic story, but Carnahan lowers the suspense and raises up the contemplative moments that suggest that there is more to the design of their fate than mere coincidence -- it's a test of their wills.
The wolf effects are hit and miss, sometimes seeming realistic and at others, obvious CGI. The attacks themselves are shot frenetically, and often quite close up, to the point where we can't see just what's going on until the fight is all over. However, the CG snow is quite convincing, though it never seems to settle in on the clothes, and the lush shots of the Alaskan wilderness (shot in British Columbia), seem icy and unforgiving, but beautiful enough to inspire the kind of contemplative ruminations that the men eventually go though as they stare death in the face.
At nearly two hours in length, with a script that probably could have been shot as a short film without the quiet moments, some viewers may grow restless at the amount of time when nothing in particular is going on. It truly is a barebones storyline, where the quiet moments have the effect of the audience filling in the blanks as to what it all means, which is a facet in the film's favor -- it carries a certain philosophical mystique about itself. If you like your 'man vs. nature' adventure stories to evoke a bit of metaphysical ponderings, The Grey is a simple premise that always seems to explore so much more than just kill or be killed.
©2012 Vince Leo