“Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.”
As long as Liam Neeson is on one’s side, he or she has a puncher’s chance of surviving anything, and that anything includes a pack of ravenous wolves. In The Grey, Liam Neeson is Ottway, a skilled marksman/huntsman with personal demons whose job is to protect oil workers in Alaska from native creatures, namely wolves. It is business as usual until Ottway and the oil drillers board a plane back home, presumably to the contiguous 48 states.
Suddenly, Ottway awakens from a short slumber to find the plane succumbing to turbulence by way of a violent blizzard. He and the plane go down, and upon waking from an undetermined amount of time being knocked out, he finds the aftermath of the crash. Only he and seven others have survived the calamity and many of these survivors have suffered substantial wounds. The wintry elements themselves are nothing to scoff at, but even then, the weather becomes a secondary concern when a bunch of grey timber wolves are biting (literally) at Ottway and company’s heels.
To be honest, The Grey felt like two distinct halves of film. The first half, in my belief, is what was expected when seeing the trailer. Some disaster occurs and people are stranded with little to no hope of survival in punishing conditions, all while having to contend with animals protecting their den. This half appears to be more focused on the wolves attacking and has little in the way of plot or character development, outside of survival. It is not necessarily a bad thing, as more or less it felt like Taken with wolves and a few differences. Sure, the factuality of wolves attacking is not true to real life, but this is a film, and it did an adequate job of explaining why they would behave in such a way. The attacks come out of nowhere often and become weirdly funny, but by and large it was entertaining.
As for the second half, the tone shifts. Survival is still of importance, but the movie begins to expound on characters and themes, such as religion, atheism, existentialism, loss, family, and ultimately what pushes a man to his breaking point. The shift does force a viewer to think about certain things, and kudos to the filmmaker for leaving the ending open to interpretation. With all of that said though, this half should have resonated more, instead of inducing a too-little, too-late feeling. Some characters go on and on about their lives and beliefs and it becomes a chore to listen to, feeling unneeded and shoehorned. It is here that The Grey becomes somewhat of a bore.
The second half would have been more effective if the characters were more thorough, and their failure to be largely falls on the writing. Eight survivors is a lot, and some do not last that long. But for those who did, it is a struggle to even remember their names, which is a problem. Most of the survivors just take up screen time and it sort of becomes a predicting game as to when they will get picked off. It should be a bigger moment when a wolf eliminates someone, but since the characters are faceless, it results in an “on to the next one” sentiment for the viewer. No one is particularly memorable, and even Ottway is uninteresting for a large portion. One would think that Neeson’s character would have the biggest development, but it ends up being someone else, previously thought to be a cliched one, that has the most powerful moment in the movie.
Liam is obviously the star here, and it is quite clear he has found a semi-niche in these types of roles. He is very convincing as a wily and gritty elder man with a bit of vulnerability dashed in. Does that make his character intriguing? Not entirely, but Neeson does lend credibility. As for the rest of the cast, no one’s acting is offensive but it unfortunately just blends in after a while with the environment. I did appreciate Frank Grillo’s character of Diaz. He starts off as grating and idiotic, but transforms into something more and ended up as the only individual to truly click.
The cinematography ends up being the best thing about this movie. Shot in Canada, director Joe Carnahan captures the bleakness and drab of being left for dead in extreme conditions. It just looks like (cold) hell. But, there are some truly picturesque frames as well, mainly in the last third that serve as a testament to technical precision. However, not all is praise worthy. The wolves are much more menacing from a distance; the scene around the fire that reveals not one set of eyes but multiple is well done and creates some uneasiness. But when the wolves are close up and begin to attack, they end up looking fake and unfrightening. Furthermore, most of these attacks and fights are hastily edited and shaky camera-ish, so a visceral element is lacking.
Though lacking in emotion, appealing characters, and occasional logic, The Grey all in all is respectable. Honestly, some people may love it more than others just off of the fact that Neeson is battling wolves. While it did not connect with me, it could very well do so with others.
Photo credits go to movieinsider.com, http://www.tribute.ca, and upcoming-movies.com
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