Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Premise: A group of oil workers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness are stalked by a pack of wolves.
What Works: The Grey is a very effective picture that combines action with horror. In some ways this is a pleasant surprise coming from director Joe Carnahan. He is best known for silly action films like The A-Team and Smokin’ Aces but The Grey is closer to Narc, his first effort, which was a gritty police drama about corruption. The Grey returns Carnahan’s filmmaking to a realistic and human dimension and it is a well-made story of survival. The film pits Liam Neeson’s character and a group of other survivors in a challenging position and the filmmakers find the thrills in the struggle to survive. This plays out very credibly as the men attempt to provide themselves with basic necessities like food and shelter and the entire production has an authentic look about it. Although the cast is led by a recognizable actor and the film is a mainstream motion picture, it has a gritty reality to the events playing out on screen; the picture looks unpolished and organic and the action set pieces maintain a credible scope like comparable scenes in The Edge or First Blood. The Grey is also very frightening, partly through some effective visuals, such as the eyes of the wolves glowing in the darkness, reflecting the light of the camp fire. But what The Grey does especially well is to use suggestion. The wolves aren’t actually seen very much but their presence is felt through the soundtrack, which includes growls, howling, and the huffs and puffs of their breathing echoing in the darkness. And while The Grey is effective as both an action and a horror film, it marshals qualities of both of those genres to fashion itself as a thoughtful piece. In the struggle for survival, Neeson and his companions face mortality and existential questions of what it is to live. Central to this is Liam Neeson’s performance. Although some of the marketing materials for The Grey make it look like Taken with canines, this is a much more thoughtful film and Neeson really delivers here as his character’s Darwinian views are both challenged and confirmed. By the end, The Grey manages to be profound in a way that isn’t pretentious.
What Doesn’t: Some of the scenes of violence in The Grey use frantic shooting and editing techniques. The intent is to convey the visceral nature of a wolf attack and the filmmakers accomplish that but the extreme close ups and quick cuts make it difficult to follow the action in some scenes. It is also important to note that The Grey is not an action film in the mold of the many comic books adaptations of recent years. This picture is more reminiscent of the action pictures of the 1970s; it is bleak, brutal, and savage like Deliverance or the original The Hills Have Eyes but it is also meditative like Badlands. This comes to bear most notably in the ending. The film’s conclusion will frustrate viewers looking for more closure even though it is absolutely the right ending for the film.
Bottom Line: The Grey has a smart story, some visceral thrills, and an impressive performance by Liam Neeson. It marries the showmanship of mainstream entertainment with the introspection of an art house picture and it’s a very successful combination.
Episode: #376 (February 19, 2012)