If all audiences are able to take one thing from “The Grey” when they go and see it, it will not be a unanimous verdict of whether it is a good or bad film, but that there may not be a bigger bad ass in Hollywood right now than Liam Neeson. It may not be “Taken” Liam Neeson destroying the underbellies of Paris, but the presence and gravitas he brings to his character still make him a man you don’t want to mess with. When it comes to the movie though itself it will all come down to whether or not you can look past the fact that it isn’t the action adventure the trailer promises, but rather a more inward looking experience of people dealing and coming to terms with life and death. I personally can say that I enjoyed the film maybe a little more for this reason, though at times it could be heavy-handed, because the “we’re being chased by wolves” angle was a bit one dimensional until the end.
The look of “The Grey” is an element in itself that should impress anyone. It is beautifully shot by Masanobu Takayanagi, the film captures the harsh elements of the Alaskan wilderness the story is set in, the chaotic and terrifying moments where the characters run for their lives, but also the beauty of the wilderness and the warmth of the character’s memories that are shown at times in flashbacks. Also, Joe Carnahan has a clear vision of the story, which isn’t the one the ads would have you believe, but from the first minutes of the film the tone is set and Carnahan doesn’t waver from it despite the temptation to make it a strict action/survival thriller kind of movie, and that is something you have to respect.
Speaking of the tone of the film, a majority of the film is a reflective study that covers faith, life and death, a pretty heavy-handed subject but one that works with the situation at hand since the main characters survive a plane crash, are stuck in freezing temperatures, and are being pursued by man-eating wolves. As I mentioned earlier these are the moments in the film that I liked the best because they gave allowed for a breath between the “how are we going to stop the wolves” question. And there is no one answer in the end that they come out of, every character is affected differently by the situation they are presented and that leads differently to their fate. It makes each death a little more meaningful than in a lot of strict action films.
And now for the man of the hour: Liam Neeson. In the summer there was word that this was a performance from Neeson that if it had come out in 2011 could have garnered him some award attention. Clearly that didn’t happen but the hype is justified, maybe not enough to have really challenge any of the nominees from this past year, but it is a very solid performance from an actor who has had quite the career resurgence in the last coupe of years. He demands the attention of the audience and his fellow characters when it would be easy to slip into a state of panic and fear, but then he’ll show his own side of fear and loss that can rock you. This isn’t like “Taken”, a solid performance, but secondary to the joy of seeing someone like Neeson just kick some serious ass, this is a performance that demands more than just the physical ability, and Neeson pulls it off extremely well.
However there are things that just keep this movie from really doing it for me. If you’ve seen the trailer I’m sure you remember the shot where Liam Neeson is under the covers with a woman, his wife, and then she is pulled back and Neeson wakes up in the snow after the plane crash. I personally loved that shot, however it isn’t the first time in the film that shot, or something very similar, is used and so right away the uniqueness of that shot it taken away. Also, again regarding his wife, that part of the story line is entirely predictable, which then makes the ending a little less impactful. Then we get to the wolves, which I found more of a threat when they were just howling in the woods then when they actually attack. It could have been really interesting if they took the “Jaws” approach and went with the unseen terror; because when they actually attack it’s just a big black/grey furry blob taking up the screen.
Still the movie comes out as a good one for me, a film that isn’t afraid to go into more thought provoking areas rather than just your typical action film. That may do it for you or not, as I can see this going down as a film with a lot of detractors and some very passionate followers as well. It reminds though of my experience with “The Tree of Life”, it was a film I was middle of the road on, and I found myself somewhere along those lines again, but the fact that we didn’t have an hour of celestial majesty put it more on the positive side without question.