Posted September 22, 2011 by David Watson in Films
 
 

The Grey


Marooned at the edge of the world amongst “men unfit for mankind,” John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a man at the end of his tether.

Marooned at
the edge of the world amongst “men unfit for mankind,” John Ottway (Liam
Neeson) is a man at the end of his tether.
Suicidally depressed, haunted by
memories/fantasies of his former wife, Ottway is a solitary loner, a hunter tired
of killing, hired to protect the oil company employees who work at a remote
drilling station from the wolves and other wild animals that roam the Alaskan
tundra.

When the plane ferrying Ottway and a motley crew of
roughnecks to Anchorage for some R&R crashes, the small band of survivors
find themselves stranded in the unforgiving wilderness and forced to work
together if they’re going to survive.
The only one with any real survival skills, Ottway assumes leadership of
the group, organising the men to forage for supplies and build a fire.

As night falls however, the cold may be the least of their
worries as the group find themselves besieged by an almost supernatural pack of
wolves, intent on defending their territory from these interlopers. Realising they must leave the wreckage
of the plane if they are to have any hope of survival, Ottway leads them South towards
the nearby forest and, they hope, salvation. But as the men fight and bicker, battling exhaustion, the
elements, hunger and each other, the wolves wait in the darkness, picking them
off one by one…

If you’re in any way a nervous flyer, maybe give this one
a miss. The Grey features possibly the most heart-stopping, terrifyingly
authentic, vomit-inducing plane crash since David Fincher’s Fight Club; all flickering lights,
teeth-rattling thuds and screaming metal as the fuselage disintegrates around
Neeson and his comrades. On the
ground the battlefield triage in the wreckage is about as effective as you’d
expect with Neeson able only to ease a colleague’s passing, holding his hand
and talking softly, reassuringly, as he bleeds to death, surrounded by the
carnage and devastation of the crash; strewn luggage and bloody body parts,
jagged metal, the dead and dying.

Continuing his late-career, action man metamorphosis, Liam
Neeson is on commanding, grizzled form as reluctant hero Ottway, a man who
could conceivably punch a ravenous slavering wolf in the face as easily as he
whips one obnoxious, self-centered survivor into line by telling him: “I’m
going to start beating the shit out of you in the next five seconds. You’re going to swallow a lot of blood.”

When we first meet him, Ottway is a weary, broken figure,
sick of killing and tired of life, comforting the dying wolf he just shot and
later nibbling on his own gun barrel as he tries to work himself up to
suicide. For Ottway and the other
survivors, their true enemy isn’t the wolves hunting them or the cold slowly
killing them, it’s the despair lurking within each of them. In a performance tinged with a
bittersweet melancholy, Neeson’s Ottway is a man looking for some measure of
redemption or at least peace, driven not so much by a will to survive as
defiance in the face of certain death.
Mimicking the pack mentality of the wolves, it’s soon obvious that
Ottway is the group’s Alpha male despite competition from the wonderful Frank Grillo as swaggering, sociopathic
ex-con Diaz and sympathetic support from Dermot
Mulroney
and Dallas Roberts on
fine form. There isn’t a bad
performance in the film and despite the, at times, clichéd nature of the plot
and the thinly sketched characters, Carnahan’s reliance on fairly unknown,
character actors lends the film some added tension as it’s not immediately
obvious who’s going to die or in what order.

Finally fulfilling the promise of Narc after the jokey, fanboy excesses of The A-Team and the callous Smokin’
Aces
, Carnahan and MacKenzie
Jeffers
have fashioned an old-fashioned tale of
adventure and survival that owes as much to the horror genre as it does Jack
London. Like all the best movie
monsters, the wolves are a demonic, mostly unseen menace, their glowing eyes
often the only sign of their presence, their attacks brutal and vicious,
unforgiving. The tension never
lets up, the robust, old-school action sequences never undercut by the
fatalistic sense of impending doom.

But in amongst the visceral excitement and gore, the film
also offers more spiritual, philosophical fare as the characters pit themselves
against nature and an absentee God in their determination to survive even as
they give in to injury, exhaustion, are drowned, are picked off by the
wolves. As they die one-by-one,
each man is able to find some measure of peace and acceptance, Masanobu Takayangi’s stunning Arctic vistas lending one character’s death a
poignant nobility reminiscent of Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train.

Tense, dark and brutal, The Grey is unashamedly a boy’s film with a contemplative edge that
neatly undercuts it’s macho posturings; a bleak, beautiful action movie that
never lets up.


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com