“The Grey,” written by Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (screenplay and short story “Ghost Walker”), directed by Carnahan, 117 minutes, rated R.
When “The Grey,” the latest movie from Joe Carnahan (“Smokin’ Aces,” “Narc”), pits man against nature, it loses the battle, bogged down by predictability and action cliches. But when it pits man against self, the film finds its soul.
Ottway (Liam Neeson) is living as an outcast working for an oil business in Alaska alongside some of society’s other rejects, for one reason or another. He’s a salaried killer of wolves, whose new existence at the end of the world revolves solely around life and death – both of which he treats with respect.
When a passenger plane occupied by Ottway and his roughneck colleagues goes down in the Alaskan wilderness, a small group of survivors are left to fend for themselves with few supplies and even less hope. Their morale takes a nosedive when they discover they’ve landed in territory occupied by wolves.
Under the guidance of Ottway, the team heads for the woods in hopes of retreating from their predators, but when the pack continues its pursuit, the concept of survival gets further out of reach.
The film picks off its survivors one by one, creating a deadly obstacle course surrounded by hungry, angry wolves ready to pounce on their prey without a moment’s notice. The structure, which is more horror than action, spoon-feeds viewers eager for cheap thrills and forced sympathy.
Behind that, however, there are philosophical undertones of life and death, survival and giving up, fear and courage, but most importantly, facing the present rather than being haunted by the past. Those themes intensify as Ottway’s true self comes to light, and as the wilderness becomes a much lonelier place. It all leads up to a bold and divisive conclusion that will leave you speechless.
Carnahan, a filmmaker known for his messiness and grit, shows surprising focus in his direction, and actually allows for a cohesive story to come through in “The Grey.” It’s something we haven’t seen from the director since 2002’s “Narc.” Neeson, whose popularity has exploded in the last couple of years, is stoic as always, lending a coldness and tenseness to Ottway that the actor only brings out on rare occasions.
“The Grey” has a way of pulling its punches for the sake of entertainment, and it’s a shame considering the film’s potential. But when you break through all those layers that emulate Stallone’s “Cliffhanger” or Arnold’s “Predator,” there’s a film here that will push you.
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