Review – The Grey

                Rating = ★★★½      Tagline = High Full Price

For a while now, Liam Neeson has been on a path to becoming a major “bad-ass” in movies. Most of the movies where he’s built that reputation, although fun to watch, haven’t offered much beyond their B-movie entertainment value. That said, Neeson’s performances have consistently contributed to something intangible that elevates the quality of the movies he appears in, even when they are, in the end, just an escapist way to spend a few hours. No matter the film or the genre, when I see Liam Neeson attached to the project, I can pretty much count on seeing something that would peek my interest . So when I saw his face plastered on the poster, I had to look into it.

From the movie trailers for The Grey, I was expecting more of the same – great acting and an interesting performance from Neeson in a fun, escapist action movie. The film did not meet my expectations at all; it far exceeded them! The Grey rises way above the recent films in which he’s starred. It really is something special and defies any easy categorization. Although I could say it was deceptively promoted as an action movie, I can see how it must have been a real challenge for the marketing guys who had to put together the advertising campaign to bring in an audience. So, ignore the trailers and dial down your action expectations (This isn’t Taken with wolves.) and you’ll be rewarded by an intelligent movie and a very interesting time. Neeson does get in a fair amount of action, but I wouldn’t call this an action movie at all. It’s more of a study in human nature and our capacity to fight for survival and to come to terms with the prospect of death. I won’t say more than that of I’ll give away too much of the story and, for me, the best part of seeing The Grey had a lot to do with the fact that I had no idea where the movie was going once it deviated from the storyline I was expecting.

Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a depressed man. He’s a rifleman for an Alaskan oil drilling station. It’s his job to shoot and kill wolves that venture near the workers. A plane is taking all the workers to Anchorage for some R&R. The plane crashes in the middle of the snowy wilderness. Only eight of the men survive the crash. What makes things worse is that the area where they’ve crashed is (you guessed it) in the middle of a large wolf pack’s territory. Ottway leads the survivors through the wilderness in a desperate fight for survival. With the double threat of the weather and the wolves, the movie delivers some great tension-filled moments of suspense. Who dies or survives and how each faces or defies death may surprise you. It surprised me.

The screenplay is extremely well written. At its core, The Grey is a very philosophical movie. Everything in this movie is masterfully done. The dialog is exceptional. All of the characters are developed well. You “feel” for every person – even the characters that originally came across as less than good before they were thrown into the hellish nightmare of the film’s predicament. The script explores its character’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that they each may die. Whether anybody does die or not isn’t the point. They each believe that they may die at any moment, and the point is how each of them deals with that omnipresent threat or fear. Each character is a metaphor for something. Joe Carnahan, who also directs the film, and Ian MacKenzie Jeffers deserve major credit for writing a taut psychological drama/thriller/part action film that works.

You don’t want to mess with him.

Joe Carnahan directed it marvelously. I especially loved what he did with the ending. Enough said on that point, except to say that the last scene of the movie is powerful, deep… and cool. I want you to enjoy it too. Carnahan directed The A-Team a couple of years back. As a director, he seems adept at making a purely fun movie, or going beyond that.

Liam Neeson and Dermont Mulroneyare the only big names in the cast. But this is Neeson’s movie. He takes the best written role he’s had in a while and really takes advantage of it. He reveals the different sides of his character in a believable way while he becomes the commanding, driving force of the story. Besides Mulroney, the supporting cast includes, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, and James Badge Dale. Dallas Roberts does a great job in his role and I could see him as a lead in a film one day. For people who don’t know him, his most mainstream role was a supporting one in 3:10 to Yuma. All the supporting cast deliver great performances.

The Grey does so much right, but it missed the mark of a perfect movie experience just a bit, in my opinion, for a few reasons. The mix of intense action and philosophical elements, at times, felt influenced by the need to play to a general audience – with a few scenes that seemed “torn” on which way to go. I could say that the movie straddled the fence. If it had given up any pretense of depth, it could have been an intense action/horror/thriller/totally fun escapist movie. If it had not worried about trying to satisfy an action/thriller audience, it could have been a film worthy of consideration at Oscar time. It nearly accomplishes both. Also the sound affect for the wolves was a little too much at times. The Grey is an outstanding movie that surprised and entertained me. I recommend it highly, especially for people looking for something new.

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17 thoughts on “Review – The Grey

  1. I loved this movie. I wasn’t expecting what it turned out to be either. I agree and I would even go as far to buy it. Excellent review, keep up the great work!

  2. My thoughts pretty much mirror yours, it seems.
    Since this was posed in my comments for the film, I’ll pass it along:

    Do you think anyone actually survives the plane crash which would make the film is similar to Jacob’s Ladder?

    • That’s very interesting. I can make a case for that, but in the end I don’t think the movie went that direction. That’s just what I think. But I have a theory.

      Another thought would be is that were the wolves really there? I don’t want to get to philosophical here, but they could be metaphorical or a hallucination. They are a little too big and loud for real wolves, your thoughts?

      • I think that plays a bit into the theory that the film is Ottway’s journey through purgatory. He was afraid of the wolves he was killing and thus made them almost supernatural in his afterlife. I still don’t buy into that theory, but I think it’s interesting.
        If it’s not meant to be anything other than what it appears to be (meaning they actually crash, have to survive, are eaten by wolves) then the wolves are a bit silly and cartoonish.

      • This was an interesting movie for sure, it’s always apparent when we can really talk about it. Also, I loved the ending. But many people have told me it didn’t work, and not just average movie goers have said this. It was so well done in my opinion though. I hope Neeson does a couple of more movies like this in between stuff like “Taken 2″ (I’m sure that will be fun).

  3. Great review, man. One of your best yet :) I’ve read many reviews that agree with you; maybe it’s time for me to check it out. Neeson is one of the best actors out there right now.

  4. Great review Alec. This flick really took me by surprise how much depth goes into these characters and how intense a lot of the action can get. Also reminded me of how great of an actor Neeson can be when he’s not off killing Russians.

    • This was easily the biggest surprise of the year so far. It was a great role for Neeson as well, and like you said, a remainder that he can still give a a layered performance. Thanks.

  5. This currently sits at #6 on my Top 10 of 2012 list (but it’s subject to change), between The Dark Knight Rises (#5) and The Hunger Games (#7). I really enjoyed it, and it’s likely the best and most probable actioner Neeson has done yet. Good review.

  6. ***SPOILERS***
    ***SPOILERS***
    ***SPOILERS***
    ***DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE***
    ***SPOILERS***
    ***SPOILERS***
    ***SPOILERS***

    Forgot to say that I really loved the ending too. It was pretty prolonged, so I began to predict it, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. My friends were pretty disappointed, though. They wanted to see one last fight scene, hoping it would be the most bloody of them all.

    • It wasn’t a twist ending for sure. That fight scene would have been great and it did disappointed many people. As the rest of the movie played out I didn’t expect a big fight at the end though. People will be happy later because Neeson is going to be in Taken 2.

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