Rating: 3 stars out of 5
The star: Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Liam Neeson
The buzz: “The Grey” is directed by Joe Carnahan from a script he wrote with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (based on Mr. Jeffers’s story “Ghost Walker”). Bradley Cooper was originally cast but was replaced with Liam Neeson. Carhanan worked with both Cooper and Neeson in the “The A-Team”.
The story: When a plane crashes in Alaska, the only survivors are members of an oil-drilling team. However, they may not be survivors much longer when they realise that they are stranded in the wild and hunting them are a pack of wolves who see them as intruders. They would have to use a little more than their wits if they want to make it out alive.
inSing.com thinks: Who would have thought that at 60, Liam Neeson will be known as an action star—something that is quite expected after his riveting performances in actioners such as “Taken” and “Unknown”.
In “The Grey,” Neeson plays John Ottway, a seasoned veteran of remote oil refineries in the harsh bleakness of Alaska, where his specialty is shooting, by sniper rifle, wild animals (mostly wolves) that attack rig workers. He’s broken up about his wife (Anne Openshaw), who, in flashbacks, lies beside him in bed.
Whatever happened between them has got Ottway to kneeling down on the snow with a rifle stuck in his mouth and finger on the trigger (and that’s like within 10 minutes into the film). Of course, being the main protagonist of the movie, he soldiers on and boards a flight with some rig workers to somewhere presumably sunnier.
Obviously they never make it. The plane got in a bit of trouble and crashes in the middle of nowhere. Eight men (including Ottway) survives in a scene that’s eerily reminiscent of the first episode of TV’s “Lost” (think burning wrecks, bodies and blood everywhere, dazed survivors, but in the frozen tundra).
From here, “The Grey” fast forwards into an existentialist survival thriller at its most primal where the ever-dwindling band of seven trudges away from the relentless pursuit of menacing plus-sized wolves and the impending elements.
And Neeson, being the obvious alpha male in this movie, apparently knows what he's doing to keep the wolves at bay. But so does the alpha male of the wolf pack (which looks like something out of “Twilight”) that's hot on their heels. The rest of the survivors are played by an interesting ensemble of unknowns including Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Nonso Anozie and Frank Grillo among others. Along the way, they’re picked off one by one by the wolves (and the freezing cold), who we’re told are the only animals that seek revenge.
Some of the best parts of the movie are actually the most mundane scenes where Ottway and the rest of the boys huddle together in a campfire, bundled up in their parkas, their faces grimed with blood and snow, discussing about the (non)existence of God, about missing their kids, about fear and the precariousness of being in love. These interactions interspersed between the action gives the rather grim movie a certain sense of earnestness—revealing their insecurities, courage, fears, futility, and the inevitability of death.
This being the wilderness, there are scenes of McGyver-esqued ingenuity when the dwindling group eventually have to face their fanged adversaries or when they have to leap across treacherous ravines.
Director Carnahan and screen writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers took their time in unraveling this frozen thriller until the unavoidable happens: the part where Ottway cannot run anymore and has to meet his fate. After putting out pulpy and silly fodder such as “Smokin’ Aces” and “The A-Team”, Carnahan goes all serious and metaphysical, adding the right amount of tension and terror. Reminding that we humans are in nature belongs at the bottom of the food chain.
Neeson, being Liam Neeson carries the film from first to last; delivering the depth of emotion and feeling that drives it.
At best, “The Grey” is a visceral study of the levels of human endurance, survival and companionship. Before you get left out in the cold, we suggest you better catch this movie.
The Grey opens in theaters February 23, 2012.