The Grey is an intense, very personal survival movie with Liam Neeson in the lead role. He plays John Ottaway, a worker for an oil company whose job involved shooting wolves so that the other men didn’t get attacked by them. He and a group of guys board a plane heading somewhere, but it’s not going to reach its destination. It crashes in one of the best plane-crash scenes ever filmed, leaving Ottaway and a few survivors to fend for themselves in a cold, harsh environment.
So, the rest of The Grey has Ottaway and a the rest of the survivors trying to figure out a way to survive this environment. Oh, and there is also a pack of wolves that have decided to take out a vendetta against these wounded individuals. Essentially, this gives the characters a reason to keep moving, while also allowing the film to pick off characters one by one after they no longer become important, or after they come to a realization that their death was inevitable anyway. Yes, the downtime in the film is spent philosophizing about religion, death, the afterlife, and so on.
The Grey isn’t just an action film, it’s an action film with something to say, which isn’t exactly the most common thing to come out of Hollywood. Usually you get one or the other, or the latter portion is so weak that it would be better off not existing at all. Here, it’s blended in nicely, while also allowing for these characters — people we need to care about, otherwise their deaths mean nothing — to become more well-rounded and fleshed out. Whenever downtime occurs, they sit around a fire and talk, and we get to know them quite well.
With that said, the only name I could remember was Ottaway, and the only actor who managed to make a long-lasting impact was Neeson. It’s his film, even though the other characters do get enough time to develop. He becomes the leader of the group — even though that causes tension with one or two other members — in large part because of his expertise in this area. And, you know, because he’s Liam Neeson and the best way it can be advertised is “Taken, but with wolves as the enemy.”
That’s not exactly a fair advertising point, but I can see why it was used. A film as haunting and gripping as this one doesn’t often get released in January, a time when bad action movies get dumped off quite often, hoping to take advantage of the equally bad action movies the competitors are releasing at the time. The Grey is a step above most of these, mostly because it’s not just an action film. It’s more about these men — their survival and mindset — than about the wolves trying to kill them.
That’s probably for the best, as The Grey doesn’t quite have the budget for good looking CGI wolves. Most of the time, either the darkness or the editing obscures the wolves from view, ensuring that we don’t get to see much of them. They’re about on-par with how the wolves in the Twilight franchise look, and not allowing us to see this very often was definitely for the best. It would take us out of the immersive experience that much of the film is.
That’s really what The Grey is: immersive. It’s intense and personal, and when these characters are struggling to survive — or trying to cope with what seems like the inevitable — you’re right there with them. Lots of close-ups make us feel very close to these people, and there’s always something about a cold climate like this one that sends a chill down my spine. It’s rare that a movie makes you want to put on a coat simply because of where it’s set, but The Grey is one of them.
I struggle to call The Grey a great movie, although I can’t think of a significant problem with it. It’s a tad long, pushing the two-hour mark, and it gets a bit repetitive by the end. It mostly follows this formula: Characters sit around and talk, then start moving, then one gets picked off, then they sit around and talk some more. Repeat until only one — or perhaps more; I don’t want to spoil what happens — remains. It’s tense and frightening, but once you get the pattern down it starts to get a bit dull.
Liam Neeson is kind of the go-to guy for action movies starring older guys nowadays, and it’s for good reason. He looks the part, for one, with the type of rugged face that tells you immediately that he’s seen and done things. He has an intensity to his performance that is often unrivaled, and he’s simply fun to watch on-screen. He can still carry himself in the action scenes, that’s for sure, and until he no longer can, I hope to see him in many more of these types of films.
The Grey is a stomach-turner of a movie. It’s haunting, intense, and manages to have something to say, while also working as a taut survival-thriller. The secondary characters get genuine personalities, meaning we care when they die, Liam Neeson continues to be a commanding presence, and it’s a very compelling picture. You will feel cold by the end of it. It’s too long, it gets predictable, and the wolves look pretty bad (in the few situations when we get to see them for an extended period of time), but the film on the whole is very good and well worth watching.