Starring: Liam Neeson
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
The Grey is a movie about survival, and its got most of the stuff that we’ve become used to seeing in survival films.
There’s a plane crash, a remote and inhospitable location, and an unlikely group of survivors, but I guess faulting The Grey for having the characteristics of its genre is like criticizing a science fiction movie for taking place in space.
In any case, it’s hard to shake the feeling that so much of The Grey feels familiar, but there are wolves, so at least that’s something new.
A plane crash happens early on in The Grey, and the scene is actually the movie at its most affecting. The crash is disorienting, intensely physical and entirely gripping, but the rest of The Grey is unable to maintain the same level of exhilaration, and the movie becomes hopelessly bleak.
The only moments of relief are quickly interrupted by the arrival of the human-killing, computer-generated wolves.
Liam Neeson, playing the main character Ottway, is a hired gunman who works in Alaska to protect local oil workers from wolf attacks.
After the plane crash, the oil workers make up the surviving crew of seven, but they don’t go much beyond the archetypes of the family man, abrasive nihilist, or soft-spoken intellectual.
The crew is only kind of likeable, and so I could only kind of care about them. Even when the film gives some illumination into a character’s past, they tend to die shortly after, so greater character depth comes with the price of predictability.
With the crew being underwhelming, the responsibility then falls to Liam Neeson, who actually does a pretty good job.
While The Grey dulls some of the typical Liam Neeson magic, he gives a passionate performance that can be captivating, at least before both he and the film fall into melodrama towards the end.
Though trailers for The Grey might’ve given the impression that the film is action-packed, it isn’t the mindless guilty pleasure that the trailers hinted it could be.
Instead, we’re left with a film that mostly focuses on the feelings of helplessness of the survivors, and the wolves are not so much an excuse for an action sequence but an embodiment of pure paranoia.
In aiming for big emotions, The Grey succeeds, but the movie has an almost complete lack of subtlety.
Still, the extreme hardships presented to the characters make it hard not to feel drawn into their fate, though the film isn’t really interesting enough to give its dramatic messages about questioning the purpose of life, and the importance of fighting for that life, much weight.
By the end of the movie, its unrelentingly miserable tone becomes a struggle to get through, and instead of giving the plight of these characters extra weight, it just feels like a bit much.
All of the emotion of the film reaches its peak in the final moments, and it’s in the ending where The Grey throws its first surprise.
The ending is quite possibly totally unsatisfying, but it’s also thought provoking, and it’s too bad the film didn’t take more chances like it.
Despite being about the fight for survival, The Grey ends up feeling a bit lifeless.