Today: February 28, 2024

The Grey DVD

An existential breath of fresh air wrapped in a genre package which transcends its concept.

The Grey is a classic example of a marketing department getting ideas above their station.  Take the newly action-certified star of TakenLiam Neeson, the director of Smoking AcesJoe Carnahan, and mix them together into a man versus wolves thriller.  Simple right?  Not really, because The Grey is a rare example of a film doing infinitely more than the people trying to sell it would have us believe.  On the surface it may well be a man with a unique set of skills hunting down a pack of wolves who are in turn hunting his crew, but to dismiss it as just ‘that film about wolves’ is to miss out on a truly engaging and deeply emotional piece of cinema.

Deep in the Alaskan wilderness Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a man trusted with protecting a team of oil drillers from the local predators.  When their job is finished the team board a plane and head back to civilisation.  However, on route their plane crashes stranding them in the middle of nowhere.  The elements against the rag-tag team of men place survival expert Ottway as obvious leader, if he can convince others he can help them through the ordeal.  But with a pack of wolves hunting them for an easy meal who will make it out of the wilderness alive?

Given the film is a pet project for Joe ‘Over The Top’ Carnahan you would be forgiven for approaching Grey with a sense of trepidation.  After all this is the man who managed to make a flying tank in The A-Team positively boring.  Thankfully from its opening moments you feel in safe hands.  The Grey feels delicate, a film firmly interested in deep emotions and character rather than concept driven.  This is the Carnahan of Narc rather than crash-bang-boom of Smoking Aces or A-Team.

One minute the film can be a hostile thriller in the vein of The Flight Of The Phoenix combined with Anthony Hopkins starring The Edge, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.  From Neeson’s opening voice-over, as a result of a letter he is writing to a past lover, there is the impression of something more powerful.  This is not so much a fight for survival, although there is clearly a survivalist element, as much as it is a man asking if he wants to survive.

And then the wolves turn up.  But crucially they never dominate the proceedings.  Instead they allow Carnahan to illustrate not only man’s constant war with nature but with himself.  The band of survivors perfectly represented in the feral ways of the wolves.  There may be contenders to dethrone the alpha male of Ottway but he is a born survivor, a man who has earned his place at the top of the food chain through many battles both external and internal.  Carnahan, perhaps learning a lesson from the school of Jaws, keeps the wolves mostly shrouded in darkness, having them attack swiftly and with brute force which shakes both the camera and the audience to the core.  It’s often gut wrenching but because of the sounds you hear rather than blood splashed across the screen.

Through it all Neeson guides us and the team along a beaten path.  He is the calm in the eye of the storm, surrounded by outcasts who would sooner work in the middle of nowhere than be integrated into society.  While the rest of the survivors fall into stereotypes to an extent, loud mouth, family man, tough guy, Neeson stays true.  What is so magnetic about him here is his understated emotions combined with a powerful stillness.  As he addresses one contender to his leadership he politely informs him to walk away before he receives a beating and swallows more blood than he’d care to.

Those hoping to see a MacGyver style hero fighting hungry wolves may be disappointed, but those wishing to see something more visceral and poignant will thrive.  The Grey is a film with a big bite but a bigger heart and by the end both Neeson and the wolves will teach you something about life and man’s will to endure.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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