Finally, a role worthy of Liam Neeson’s talents! This just goes to show that he still is a great actor; just a great actor with really terrible taste in recent years. In any case, it’s nice to see that January releases can at least bear some fruit when it comes to quality movies. Even though it took me a full year to get around to seeing it, I am very glad that The Grey placed among your top 5 films I shouldn’t have missed from last year. All I have left now are Headhunters and Robot & Frank, both of which I’ll probably end up watching before finally getting around to polishing off the last of the Oscar Nominees. But let’s stick to what’s at hand; the simultaneously ponderous and tense story of survival widely regarded as the first great movie of 2012. As thrilling as it is bleak, The Grey elevates itself above it’s basic plot with strong writing, subdued directing and a long overdue return to form for Liam Neeson.
After their plane crashes in Alaska, six oil workers are led by a skilled huntsman to survival, but a pack of merciless wolves haunts their every step.
Yeah, that’s pretty much it, but it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. It’s the people that make this movie, not the plot
In my opinion, this is Liam Neeson’s strongest role in years. His character, John Ottoway, has very little revealed about his character but Neeson’s performance makes him feel far more developed than the script ever directly contributes. We know that his job at the oil rig was to protect the workers from wolves, thus his expertise in fighting them after the crash, but as to his life before the rig we are only given passing references and flashbacks. My only complaint is that I wish they’d elaborated on his relationship with his wife a bit more though. He continually flashes back to her but we never see her speak and are only given hints as to what happened to her and how John came to be where he was (unless I missed something significant…)
The biggest surprise for me however was how natural the rest of the survivors felt. There are a few archetypes that have to be filled, i.e. the religious guy (Dalla Roberts), the ex-con who start out a complete ass but eventually changes his ways (Frank Grillo), but for the most part I felt like I was watching actual people rather than just a bunch of actors. It certainly helped that while the script may not have been amazing, it definitely didn’t get in the way of the realistic feel of the movie. It’s amazing how bad screenwriters can be at writing believable dialogue, especially when they’re trying to fit in jokes that just don’t really belong *cough cough* MICHAEL BAY *cough cough* Luckily, that isn’t the case here and it makes it all the more emotionally effective when the survivors drop off one by one.
Like I said in the first paragraph, for every wolf-attack scene there are two scenes devoted to John’s introspective monologues, flashbacks, or annecdotes. Some people might feel that this bogs down the movie’s action component, but I felt that it balanced the action elements quite nicely. I also felt that the movie did a surprisingly good job of tackling the “coming to terms with your own mortality” concept it focuses on so often. I definitely give director Carnahan credit for making this work, which I did not expect seeing as the man’s last directorial effort was The A-Team (which I loved but I wouldn’t exactly call it deep). In fact, the combination of John’s stoic voiceovers and the frequent flashbacks to his wife reminded me a lot of Jim Caveizel’s flashbacks to Miranda Otto in Terrence Mallick’s The Thin Red Line.
One Last Gripe…
After all the work these guys put into the film, shooting on location in subzero temperatures for a budget of nearly $25 million, you’d think that they could have gotten the animatronic wolves to be a bit more convincing. Like the Dinosaurs in BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs series (Remember those?), the wolves look fine from far away in their CGI forms, but once they get up close and the camera switches to the animatronic versions it looks like someone took a stuffed wolf head off the wall and just started pushing it against the actors while making growling noises.
The Verdict: 8.5 - Impressive
+ Neeson gives his strongest performance in years
+ The directing is very artfully done;adds a cerebral aspect to the core survival story
+ The supporting cast feel like real people; you give a crap when they die
- Really cheesy looking animatronic wolves
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Cinematic Katzenjammer: 9.5/10
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 8.0/10
Marked Movies: 3.5/5
Fast Film Reviews: 3.5/5
Cinematic Corner: 46/100