What could have been just a good survival movie is actually one of the best films we’re going to see in 2012. It should be noted up front that the movie being shown in trailers (Taken with wolves!) isn’t quite what we get, and it’s all the better for it. I’ll get to that in a second, though.
The Grey stars Liam Neeson as Ottway, a man working up in Alaska at an oil drilling site. He’s the guy that makes sure no wolves get too close to the employees as they’re outside. Ottway’s also a man at the end of his days. At some point prior to the film, he lost his wife and now he can’t deal with the turmoil any longer. However, just as he’s about to end his life, he finds the urge to keep living. The only problem is that the next day as he’s on a flight out from the site, the plane crashes. Not only do Ottway and the fellow survivors have to deal with surviving in the freezing Alaskan wilderness, but they also have to survive a pack of nearby living wolves.
I saw The Grey at an early screening this week and it’s been something heavy on my mind ever since. That’s because it really is more than a standard survival action film. The film deals a lot with the emotional side of its characters, specifically Liam Neeson’s. The men who survive the plane crash are also the people that society doesn’t necessarily want. They’re the former criminals, the trouble makers, the ones with pasts, but they’re also men with reasons to want to live. The film is ultimately about coming to terms with the despair of your past and taking it on headfirst.
This is a character driven film, I don’t think anyone will deny that. This is the reason why it truly works and is something that will be remembered for years to come. You come to like and care for these characters, and when those destined to die bite the bullet, it stings, a lot. There’s some really performances in the film that really sell the emotion from Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney and Dallas Roberts, but none as grand as Liam Neeson. He’s speaks when he needs to, is reserved, and there’s a strong sadness hidden that shows its face a few times. We’re still in awards season for last year’s films, but I’ll just say it now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Neeson was up for awards this time next year. Oh, and yes, he’s badass.
That doesn’t mean the film has no action, in fact, there’s quite a bit. It’s all staged quite nicely, and the tension’s always high. If it’s not the wolves you’re afraid of, it’s definitely Mother Nature. When the wolves do attack, it’s almost always sudden, as I imagine a real attack would be. There’s a real fear that crawls over you throughout the film and it’s any time a wolf howls. The wilderness also provides a worthy threat, with a cliff proving to be as terrifying as any wolf could ever be.
The film knows when to show its softer side and when to harden up, and consequently it’s got a great pace to it. The cinematography has a harshness to it that captures the coldness of Alaska, but it can also be stunning to look at. The score complements the film nicely without ever being overbearing.
I don’t think there was anything in this film I didn’t absolutely adore. It’s a powerful, moving film that also happens to kick a lot of ass. I do really think it’s advisable to note going in that the movie’s different than what’s advertised. I imagine a lot of people to come away disappointed that it’s not Taken with wolves, but those that are won over or understand the film out of the gate are going to remember this film for years to come.