The Grey

15 Feb

Title: The Grey
Year: 2012
Director: Joe Carnahan
Writers: Joe Carnahan and Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, based on the short story by Mr. Jeffers
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale
MPAA Rating: R, violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language
Runtime: 117 min
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Metacritic: 64

I think it’s very safe to say by now that the career choices Liam Neeson’s made lately to establish himself as a believable mature action hero are all kinds of rad. It all obviously started with the sleeper hit that was Taken which made over $225 million in early 2009, largely in part to how incredibly kick-ass Mr. Neeson was as Bryan Mills, the man who would do anything to get back his kidnapped daughter; you really wouldn’t want to mess with Liam Neeson after seeing that film. After that film’s he’s been Zeus in Clash of the Titans and Hannibal in The A-Team, as well as starred in last year’s Unknown which had a very Taken-ish vibe. Coming up he has sequels to both Clash of the Titans and Taken, as well as a turn in Battleship. So yeah, this guy’s becoming the action man for the over-fifty crowd, and even when the films aren’t great he’s always really awesome in them, so I’m happy about that.

The latest Liam Neeson vehicle to come out is The Grey, directed by Joe Carnahan, and it’s a really gritty tale of survival of a group of people (led by Mr. Neeson’s John Ottway, natch) who are left stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after their plane crashes. Dealing with injuries, as well as the unruly weather and the pack of wolves that surround them, they must find a way to survive. And let me tell you something, this film looks really bloody cold; interviews with the cast members in which they speak of the shooting conditions are awesome to hear because these guys really were in freezing conditions, and it comes through brilliantly on screen, making this whole film look really gritty.

The action stuff is obviously awesome and it looks great, but what really made The Grey stand out to me was that its characters were fully dimensional and you could actually invest in them, and the result is a film that has just as much philosophical value as it does action stuff. That balance was what really drew me to this film and what made it better than what I expected it to be, because it’s a simple moral fable about being a heroic man, about helping others to survive. And I loved that, I loved that it was a straightforward kind of film that brought forth some really cool existential subjects and tackled them without much fuss and in just the most efficient of ways. And it’s that human stuff that gets you to seriously love this film, the action set pieces are just the icing on the cake

Joe Carnahan directed Liam Neeson on The A-Team, and while that film seemed like it was fun to make for Mr. Neeson, it wasn’t all that good (I gave it a C+). This time around however their collaboration brings forth much better results, and actually shows that Mr. Carnahan is a guy who can deliver the goods. Mr. Neeson’s character is the guy hired by the northern Alaskan oil rigs to shoot at wildlife dangers like wolves who may pose threats to the men working on the fields. The way Mr. Neeson speaks of this work, and of the men that choose to do it, in a voiceover at the beginning of the film, is just great, and the sets the tone for the grim circumstances we’re about to be thrust into. After the plane that was transporting him and many others out of their place of work crashes, many die instantly or shortly thereafter, leaving just Ottway and seven others alive.

Ottway being the experienced one takes charge of the group, leading them towards the paths that would have the better chances of keeping them alive. They are aware they’re being hunted by wolves, the unblinking stares of the beasts glowing in the dark, as the men uses torches to keep them at bay. But this isn’t a men-against-wolves story, not at all, because The Grey then becomes a very meditative sort of film that knows how to be patient, and that allows for the tough guys to actually have conversations, which in turn makes them seven individuals and not just seven bodies being hunted. There are roles among the group, that’s true, from a sensitive father to an ex-con who seems to be ready to tackle anything head-on, but this is far more insightful than what you’d expect.

It’s a really tough film this one, and it doesn’t try to mask the fact that these seven men are in a situation in which the odds are set severely against their survival. So don’t expect a super happy ending of any kind, just expect one that, considering all that’s transpired, will be really satisfying, or at least it was to me, and there’s a post-credits scene that you should stay for. I loved The Grey, I honestly did, much more than I thought I would actually, and a lot of that is because of Liam Neeson; the guy brings such a gravitas to his performances that you’re immediately pulled into his story, the fact that The Grey indeed has quite a lot of substance in its story just makes it that much better.

Grade: B+

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