“Once more into the fray…
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live and die on this day…
Live and die on this day…”
I got roped into seeing seeing The Grey a few nights ago, a film I thought for sure would pan out to be little more than Liam Neeson vs. man-eating wolves. As it turns out, this 2012 surprise thriller was actually kind of enjoyable, though far from a masterpiece. I guess a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in awhile; yes, I’m looking at you, director Joe Carnahan.
The movie gets going by introducing us to John Ralph Ottway (Neeson), a grizzled, Alaskan wolf hunter who protects oil rigs and their crews from packs of those ferocious, fanged creatures. Carnahan does a great job of piecing together the opening sequence as we sympathize with Liam Neeson, whose wife left him an indeterminate amount of time ago (surprising, considering his loved ones are usually “Taken” from him). After a few shots of him killing wolves on the job, a letter to his long-lost love, and a failed suicide attempt that is interrupted by a long off howl from Cujo, he boards a plane heading home.
The deliberate pacing of the first fifteen minutes gives the movie a palpable sentimentality, something I didn’t expect – and something that is explored in the latter acts of The Grey interspersed amidst some heart-racing sequences. Flashbacks are used to full effect in this film, whether it be Ottway’s father’s poem (posted at the beginning of this article), or memories of loved ones back home, a motif that is frequently employed with Neeson’s character, most startlingly when the plane crashes and he is forced back to reality.
The film wastes no time jumping into the survival genre, as the elements and the titular grey wolves come to the forefront of the remaining passengers’ minds as they escape the wreckage. In the vein of classic monster movies in which the characters are stalked by the beasts, The Grey constantly reminds the viewer of the horrors that await Ottway and company just off screen. It’s that tangible danger, that gripping fear that death is around every corner that makes this film work – and considering that the scenario unfolding is a plausible one, it makes you a little uneasy knowing that this could actually happen.
As the wolves begin to do their work on the motley crew, some sequences truly entertain, while others fall flat on their faces. Some of the deaths are startling, and others are borderline laughable. It’s this uneven execution that keeps The Grey from really reaching new heights, especially in light of some quality dialogue, harrowing scenes, and introspectives into some rather thought-provoking problems. Themes such as religion (and lack thereof), family, friendship, and others are explored. But unlike other movies of its kind, it doesn’t preach, and leaves the audience to decide where they stand on each issue. Even the final scene isn’t clear cut, a move that, I think, pays off when the viewer reflects on the two hours they’ve just experienced.
I wouldn’t take the time to watch it again in full, but it was nice to see a unique spin on the survival/horror genre. The Grey knows what it has going for it, and milks it to maximum effect. I certainly won’t be caught camping any time soon, anyway.