The Grey (2012)

Joe Carnahan

Liam Neeson - John Ottway
Frank Grillo - John Diaz
Dermot Mulroney - Talget
Dallas Roberts - Pete Hendrick
Joe Anderson - Todd Flannery
Nonso Anozie - Burke

Genre - Thriller/Drama/Survival

Running Time - 117 Minutes

John Ottway (Liam Neeson) works at an Alaskan oil drilling facility as a guard in the tundra. This occupation involves long hours, dangerous work, and drinking away any semblence of their former lives away from the job. Ottway's job is to keep the men safe from hunting wolves with his trusty rifle.

One night, Ottway and the rest of the workers eagerly board a plane to Anchorage to get away from the job. Unfortunately some time after the plane takes off, there's some major turbulence and the plane crashes in the middle of nowhere in a snowy tundra. Ottway and those who have survived the crash decide to group together to find their way back to civilization, although blizzard-like conditions and a band of wolves stand in their way.



- The acting. The story and metaphorical themes of THE GREY wouldn't be as effective or powerful without a cast of strong actors to really drive it home to viewers. Liam Neeson, always a fantastic and intense actor, is the film's heart and soul as John Ottway. The film studio tried to market THE GREY as "TAKEN with wolves", which isn't really the case here. But while Neeson does handle action convincingly well here, it's the quieter moments that really elevates his portrayal of a lonely man who's coldness towards life in general matches the coldness of the tundra he fights so hard to survive in. He makes himself the alpha of his group [a theme I'll bring up later] and we learn the most about his character through Neeson's presence, charisma, and command of the material given to him. In a lot of ways, I felt Neeson was playing himself through the Ottway character - as both suffered tragedies in their personal lives within the last couple of years - letting Neeson let out all the anger, stress, and confusion through his acting. It made his performance that much more profound and captivating. I read Bradley Cooper was originally supposed to portray this role, but I honestly can't see it being half as good as Neeson's portrayal here. He makes THE GREY performance-wise.

The rest of the cast don't get as much material to chew on as Neeson does, but they all do a fantastic job in their respective roles. In particular, Frank Grillo [who was also solid in 2011's WARRIOR] is great as the antagonistic Diaz - who doesn't agree with Ottway's views on survival and prides on being a cynic until things get really bad. Just from the way he presents himself and behaves gives viewers a lot about his character. Delmot Mulroney is also good as Talget in a much quieter role. Everyone in the cast should be commended for their work here. I really believed their fear, frustration, and will to survive [as well as their will to give up when they knew their time was up]. Solid stuff.

- The direction and cinematography. Director Joe Carnahan and director of photography Masanobu Takayanagi should be applauded for the powerful and effective visuals for THE GREY. Carnahan, known for his work on THE A-TEAM, NARC, and SMOKIN' ACES, decides to pull back on the stylish and quick edits of his previous action works. Instead, he lets the actors tell the narrative while focusing on their struggle to survive in the freezing wilderness. It's quite nice and leads to many moving and effective moments. The use of flashbacks are effective. The cinematography of the snow, and then later the mountain and river setting are just beautiful and stunning. I also loved that the film had a subtle score, letting the natural sounds be the forefront. I also loved the grain to the film. It was an inspired choice to direct these actors outside subzero temperatures to capture the real feeling of freezing to death, as it makes THE GREY seem more real than it is. I felt the film was pretty suspenseful and touching at times. I thought Carnahan and Takayanagi did an awesome job.

- The special effects. Believe it or not, the special effects in THE GREY are the wolves themselves. While some of them were real animals, some of them were animatronics. There's CGI used on these wolves that gives them a certain glow that makes the animals look really surreal and creepy at times. I loved the shot of the group looking out into the darkness, with the yellow glow of wolf eyes staring back at them. Really chilling moment there. Of course, we get blood and some pieces of human body parts now and then that look natural. THE GREY doesn't rely on the special effects all that much, but it's effective when used.

- The story. While THE GREY doesn't have the greatest dialogue or the most original premise, the narrative is deeper than what the marketing leads one to suspect. THE GREY isn't really about these men trying to survive freezing conditions while guarding themselves against vicious wolves. Maybe that's what the ads led you to believe on the surface, but the screenplay is a lot deeper than that. In fact, THE GREY is a very thought provoking film with serious themes about life, death, and God. There are so many questions presented in THE GREY: What happens to us when we die? When do we know when, where, why, or how we die? Why is life so unfair to us? Why are we so afraid to admit that we fear death? Does God really exist, and if He does, why does He let his children suffer a tough life?

In fact, Mother Nature and the way it treats these characters represents life. Life is tough. Life is unpredictable. Life puts us down so we can get back up and pass whatever tests are being thrown at us. As much as the freezing weather and the plane crash puts these men in serious danger, they bond and learn about life through each other on a positive note. The wolves themselves are obviously a metaphor for death, as they appear out of nowhere to kill the characters one-by-one when they least expect it.

Speaking of the portrayal of the wolves, I know a lot of people complained about how they acted against their nature in THE GREY. A lot of groups were against this film for this reason, and for others as well. Wolves aren't normally vicious like THE GREY makes them out to be, as these animals only attack unless provoked. Since these species of wolves were just taken off the endangered species list recently, it hit a soft spot with many animal activists. But if people realized that the wolves represented the physical form for swift and sudden death, I think there would have been less opposition to the use of these beautiful animals. Real wolf meat was used for one scene though and I'm not really sure how I feel about that. These animals were at one time endangered, so there's a line that's dying to be crossed there. I can respect PETA and other animal groups being up in arms with THE GREY because I see where they're coming from. But it's not like the animal slaughter in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, which really disturbed me. We do see a wolf getting butchered, but it's a fake prop. But I guess it still hits close to home.

Honestly, I felt like THE GREY was like a dream or some semblence of the afterlife - as things happen in a dream-like way and characters are taken away from us in very tragic, and sometimes ironic ways. THE GREY is about these men who don't trust each other at first, but learn to become true friends when life hands them a terrible plate that eventually bands them together. It allows the characters to grow from men who are only worried about their own personal issues, to men who worry about the other and try to protect each other from wolves and from whatever Nature throws at them. I really appreciated the depth to the story, as the themes of THE GREY sunk in and left me thinking about the questions presented and what I would have done in their situation. We don't get many films like that these days, so it's nice to see one come along. Sure, it sacrifices certain story elements that needed to be there [I'll get to that], but at least THE GREY had a lot of substance that made me care about the plight of these characters. So kudos for that.

- Lack of character development. Because of the depth of the themes presented in THE GREY, that leaves less time for the characters not named Ottway. While Diaz, Talget, and Hendrick get some characterization, it's not a whole lot because it's really Ottway's story over anyone else. This hurts the effectiveness of the deaths of some of the main characters because we can't necessarily attach ourselves to them emotionally. Before we really get to know some of the survivors, wolves pop out of nowhere and devour them. And when we're left to the last four survivors, we know more about them towards the end [including their first names - they were only referring to themselves by their surnames]. But Ottway is still the only major character who is given a backstory of some sort, while the other characters are given some but nowhere close. When you realize it's really one man's story about his struggle with life, death, Nature, and himself - you start to care more about this one man and start caring a bit less about the others because their struggle [while it's the same on the surface] doesn't feel as important to the story. This hurts the film a bit, but not too much to where THE GREY suffers. It's a somewhat necessary flaw: deep themes or deep characters - something was going to be sacrificed here, even though I'm sure both could have been done here.

- Misleading marketing. This is not a hit on the film itself, but I have to say that the studios were pretty deceiving in what they wanted to present to potential audiences. They make THE GREY seem like this action flick about a man stuck in a tundra while punching and beating up wolves who want to kill him. This couldn't have been further from the truth, as THE GREY is more of a drama with action-suspense elements added within. I still enjoyed this film when I watched it in theaters earlier this year [enjoyed it more the second viewing days ago], but I knew others who felt lied to and hated the film because of it. I think it's pretty unfair for that kind of hate, but I don't blame them for feeling duped. I think Liam Neeson will sell a film on its own. Trying to make it something it's not is only going to hurt matters rather than help them.

Do you want existentialism in your artsy thrillers? Well then THE GREY is for you. Besides a bit lacking in some character development for some of the major characters, everything else about this film is solid. Brilliant performances, especially by Neeson and Grillo, stunning visuals and direction, great suspense, and thought-provoking drama highlight this film. Forget how THE GREY was marketed and go in with a clean slate. This film will make you think and it will make you feel. Nice to see there are mainstream films out there who still have intelligent, soul, and a lot of heart. One of the better films of 2012 so far.

3.5 Howls Outta 4


  1. We are pretty signing the same tune on this one bud!

  2. Great review!

    I saw it in the cinema and really liked it but not enough to rush out and buy the dvd.

    Interesting that you enjoyed it more on a second viewing though - not often that happens

    K :-)

  3. Brilliant review for a kick-ass movie. Enjoyed it a lot, especially because of the stunning-looking landscapes, the high amount of suspense and Neeson's excellent performance. Top flick!

  4. Great review! Thought this was a solid thriller. Liam Neeson at his best.


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