I think it’s about time we just start cloning Liam Neeson and giving one to every man woman and child immediately. Neeson has saved someone or viciously beaten bad guys in nearly every scenario imaginable and everyone should be so lucky to have a jack of all trades by them when the shit hits the fan. On a more serious note it should be said now that the wolf punching shenanigans as depicted in the trailer probably wasn’t the best way to market THE GREY. Before watching the film I expected a brainless survival action flick from the guy that brought us the most recent A-TEAM movie and what I got was a introspective drama thriller that’s brilliantly acted, tense and even beautiful at times.
THE GREY follows an oil drilling team that is largely full of ex- convicts and a selection of other rough around the edges members of society. The team boards a plane which eventually crashes on a mountain with only a handful of survivors. Before long the survivors become aware that they have attracted the attention of a pack of wolves and that they are dangerously close to their den. The group is forced to walk to try and distance themselves from the threat but also have to deal with the bitterly cold weather in order to survive.
When I sat down to watch THE GREY I was poised for a badass survival thriller with dudes owning wolves with bare knuckles and even with broken liquor bottles tied to their fists and to be fair some of that is true, but I got something entirely different from what I was expecting. What I got was a much more restrained survival drama with moments of pure tension and some genuine thrills thrown in the mix from time to time.
It’s not hard to see how someone might feel misled after watching THE GREY. The trailers can’t really push across some of the quieter moments or some of the great scenes of dialogue with characters reminiscing back and forth or bickering back and forth. What it does push across is the insane plane crash, battle with the elements and vicious wolves hunting the group and ending with Neeson preparing to beat down a wolf with glass between is knuckles. That all adds up to a pretty sweet action flick except that even though the movie does have all those things yet they are spaced apart perfectly to add more heart and human drama between them making it less of a passable popcorn flick.
The ensemble cast is phenomenal and I don’t believe any one actor takes away from the performance of another. Liam Neeson is the obvious star power on display but he does well to not overplay the situation and instead he just blends with the rest of the guys until he gets a few scenes to break out the heavy dramatic chops. If I had to single out one actor in particular it would have to be Frank Grillo as Diaz- Grillo has some pretty fantastic scene stealing moments, one being amidst a verbal and physical standoff with Neeson. The whole cast has their moments to shine and I don’t want to downplay anyone specifically but between Neeson and Grillo those two had plenty of moments to take center stage.
Actors are one thing but the set pieces the characters are put into are pretty incredible. The first one is the spectacular set up of the plane crash. The tension builds with each pocket of turbulence until the moment finally comes and the plane descends rapidly and the sound design during that scene just oozes with dread. Two other favorites include a dash where the group is running for the trees with the wolves in hot pursuit and a scene where the surging group attempts to cross a gap with a line of cloth and miscellaneous items tied together. The skill at which the scenes are paced out and executed shows a lot of care and restraint went into the process so we get time to care about the character during the scene rather than hope for a giant spectacular explosion or grand visual effect to keep interest in the scene.
Lastly, the score for THE GREY is fantastic. The central score is quite beautiful and fits within the context of the film perfectly. It’s dramatic yet haunting which describes the film in and of itself. There is always a flare of horror within the drama and the film bleeds a more artistic personality than Carnahan’s previous effort.
Overall THE GREY is a film that caught me completely by surprise. When the blood starts to flow here it actually has an impact and it takes a special movie to mix such brutal elements of violence and emotion. There are a handful of powerful performances and fantastic set pieces and an overall tone of dread that carries through to the end. As harsh and gritty THE GREY is at times it also has a deep and intimate look at accepting death in your final moments by focusing on the beautiful moments in life. All elements combine make for a pretty incredible film that has great emotional depth along with some nail biting moments of action and thrills that create an unforgettable experience.
Note: The ending is likely to be a pretty contentious area for people who love and hate the film. A very brief scene is present when the credits end- which just like this note- is a P.S. to the end of the film.