Liam Neeson’s career has been gone through a rather confusing track over the past decade or so. Though he has been around since the late seventies in some incarnation or another, Neeson really came into the public consciousness with 1996’s Schindler’s List and 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: the Phantom Menace. After these movies his career went into something of a hibernation period with him popping up in supporting roles or bit parts. Then, like a hungry bear awakening from said slumber, his career exploded with new-found vitality after 2008’s Taken, and in a much different capacity. Now Neeson is a Harrison Ford for a new generation, a kind of old dude who delivers what the people want: he beating the shit out of things. This is the Liam Neeson the advertisers of the Grey wanted you to think you would see, and so for that I suppose they are at fault for some false advertising. If you are going to see the Grey to see Liam Neeson beat the shit out of some dogs Taken style, you will be disappointed. The Grey is not Taken with dogs, instead it harkins back to 1990’s Liam Neeson with a more restrained Jack London-esque story of man vs. nature with some incredible intensity and a surprising philosophical agenda.
The Grey is about Ottway (Neeson) a lonely man working out in Alaska as a type of security guard for a mining company, except instead of keeping people out he keeps out the wild animals native to Alaska: bears, wolves, what have you. He and a few co-workers board a flight to Anchorage which crashes into the middle of the Alaskan Tundra, and much to the chagrin of our seven survivors, the middle of a wolf pack’s ‘kill zone’. Now, with no rescue in sigh, the seven men must fight against the weather and the wolves for their very survival.
The Grey is a very intense movie in a kind of way I wasn’t expecting. Fear comes from what you don’t see: the howl of a wolf, the breaking of twigs, lone growls off in the distance. This isn’t a movie about Liam Neeson beating the shit out of dogs with broken beer bottles on his hands, it is more intelligent than that. The intensity and pacing of events in the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat, and even though the wolf attacks are a bit predictable, when they do happen a deep sense of some latent primitive fear comes out. If there is any complaint to be made about the fear elements of the movie it has to be directed towards the cgi wolves, which makes that intensity drop off a bit when you actually do see them in broad light. However it’s pretty unethical to actually do this stuff with real dogs, so I’m not sure what other option they had, I just wish it was not as distracting.
Along the way the Grey also fleshes out its rag-tag team of survivors in well done but predictable ways, choosing to settle on a central idea for the group rather than trying to juggle a million different back-stories and themes at once. Everybody has someone back home, be it a daughter, girlfriend, or wife, and they fight to survive to see these people again. It is simplistic but not cheap, it does make you care when these people die and it supports the different themes and conflicts within the film itself. Though the acting isn’t spectacular from any one person, the entire cast does their job bringing these characters and people to life well enough that it is effective and makes you care, and it is nice to see Neeson in a more restrained persona.
The directing in the Grey, under the guidance of Joe Carnahan, is pretty good. Light is used very effectively to hide the dangers surrounding them and the flashbacks are handled in a different and interesting way. He paces the movie fairly well and his direction serves the fear elements of the film tremendously. However, the writing in the Grey is what makes the move truly stand out among other survival tales; the Grey is surprisingly intelligent, it handles its various philosophical themes and ideas very well and it brings this movie up a step above the Neeson vs. dog romp that people undoubtedly thought they were going to see.
And in the end it is your devotion to this expectation that will dictate whether you like this movie or not. The Grey is better than a lot of late-January romps out there and is a surprisingly intelligent and intense movie. But this is not an action movie, in fact the number of confrontations between wolf and man could be counted on a single hand. The ending of the Grey is also certain to polarize groups, and though I was disappointed when I walked out of the theater, upon reflection of the movie as a whole I have come to the conclusion the movie could have ended in no other way. The Grey is notTaken with dogs, but is a slow and intelligent thriller that will reward those willing to look past the advertising.
- nate124 posted this