The Grey Directed by: Joe Carnahan Cast: Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Ben Bray Running Time: 1 hr 57 mins Rating: R Release Date: January 27, 2012
PLOT: A plane carrying a team of Alaskan oil drillers crashes in the wild. A hunter named Ottway (Neeson) tries to lead them to survival while they fight off a pack of wolves.
WHO'S IT FOR?: First and foremost, this is a man's movie (females are obviously invited too). It's ideal viewing for a construction worker field trip, or really anybody who needs to have their testosterone humbled.
EXPECTATIONS: The A-Team, the previous film by director Carnahan starring Liam Neeson, was an overlooked yet satisfying action movie. And in general, Neeson has been picking some extremely masculine characters as of late. Could this re-combination of talent mean something special for The Grey?
Liam Neeson as Ottway: In this gruff ode to the power of men, Neeson is the super-man at the center. And he's such a damn good actor that you believe him when he's fighting fake wolves, you accept that Man was made with him in mind, and ultimately that he's going to lead you the viewer to some sort of peaceful resolution. Even when Neeson goes to the crazier ends of this primal performance (he gives one of the best movie prayers in years), you're fixated on him. Score: 7
Rest of cast: Slightly fitting for a story of survival against wolves, everyone aside from Neeson is essentially a slab of meat, with one differentiating characteristic. That isn't to say some of them don't bring their own flavor - they all combine to show the flaws that can destroy men - pride, fear, or in a more immediate case, lack of willpower. Score: 6
TALKING: Most characters have at least one monologue, which sound like readings from the Book of Men. Of course, Neeson gets the most memorable speeches, and the best lines (a couple of his lines are triumphantly ridiculous). He is always offering statements that feel like Carnahan is speaking directly to the testosterone in the theater. Neeson directly asks those watching him, "What's wrong with being scared? Men can be scared." Score: 6
SIGHTS: These aren't the most realistic looking wolves, but you'll still find solace from them in any of the movie's morbidly peaceful wide shots of The Grey's natural landscape. With a slight exception of the fanged beasts, The Grey has a distinct realistic look, which makes story elements like being inside a plane as it is crashing, or seeing nothing but white, all the more effective. The usage of darkness also lends itself towards especially uneasy moments. All this movie needs is a draft of winter air to provide viewers a full atmospheric effect. Score: 7
SOUNDS: Similar to other "man movies" like the The Expendables, The Grey cranks up the volume - and the intense horror within the movie benefits from it. From the blistering plane crash to the jump scares driven by wolf appearances, The Grey grabs your attention with its loudness. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: The Grey has many intense moments, so it's hard to choose just one. That plane crash certainly scared the hell out of me, however.
ENDING: STAY AFTER THE CREDITS. If you are reading this too late, you might as well hop on the IMDb message boards to see what you missed. It's not a gigantic revelation, but it will provide a tiny bit of satisfaction to a scene hyped by previews that isn't actually in the final product.
QUESTIONS: I heard that Carnahan wants to re-release this in October for awards consideration. Really, Joe? And how much of a passion project is this for Carnahan? Where did Neeson's interest in masculinity come from?
REWATCHABILITY: I am very curious to see if The Grey can grab me as tight during a second viewing. Will the moments of terror be easier to spot? Will its emotional story present itself as even more limp?
With more than just a few sequences of almost unbearable intensity, The Grey succeeds in gripping its audience with a feeling of helplessness, and unpredictability. Witnessing a plane crash from the passenger's seat is just the beginning of the realistic thrills Carnahan places you right in the middle of; and sometimes with phony wolves you wouldn't normally dread to see again. Such intense scenes are spread out by a meditative pace that can best be described as "brooding." Wonderfully, The Grey never feels certain, and it never feels safe.
Yet like a biker trying to write his first love song, Carnahan isn't able to explore the emotional territory that is prevalent in the lives of his sheep without resorting to cliches. Flashbacks had Neeson's character and co. are sunny as they always seem to be. The heart of the movie never beats as hard as its fist. At its most basic level, Carnahan proves a point, by showing the men what's most important to them - but we've seen it before.
From the same guy who gave us the "non 'easy breezy Cover Girl'" version of The A-Team, The Grey is a tense survival story that preaches a humbling tale from the aforementioned Book of Men. It's a savage piece of poetry that challenges its male audience, both by showing them the fallacies of masculinity, and by scaring them out of their seats like little girls.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10