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The Grey (Joe Carnahan,2012)

Let me start off with the plain and obvious: The Grey is a B-movie, of sorts. One of those releases that goes straight-to-video. But does that make it a bad movie, necessarily? Not at all. For what it’s worth, it’s undeniably silly and suspenseful at the same time. Liam Neeson’s performance is achingly real. As I see it, The Grey is precisely caught in the grey area between B-movie and a movie like The Edge (horrible pun aside). Despite its goofy but interesting premise, it’s a surprisingly thrilling ride into the heart of the wilderness, and man. Poetic, yet unrelentingly brutal, The Grey is a must-see film for those who long to see a classic existential, survival thriller. Oh, and the wolves are pretty badass, too.

A team of low-lives are on their way to a barren portion of Alaska to drill for oil. This is the type of group that one would probably send on a mission such as this: ex-cons and marginalized people with little connection to the outside world. This is primarily where the film works the best. Each actor does very well with what they’re given. Though we’re only provided with snippets of each individual’s life, the empathy, I felt, was surely there. Liam Neeson plays Ottway, a hunter who’s haunted by memories of his girlfriend. He’s an accomplished marksman. His existence is pretty shoddy, and at the beginning of the film he’s contemplating suicide.

As you might have guessed, before they can arrive, the plane crashes in a horrible storm. There are very few survivors. This has to be one of the most frightening, disorienting plane crashes I’ve ever seen. But on the contrary, the cinematography of the Alaskan north is beautiful and majestic. It’s big, open and at times still and somber. Since we’re often in the mind of Ottway, all throughout the film we are reminded of a poem that Ottway’s alcoholic father wrote, which is quite beautiful. It goes something like this,”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.” The melancholic tone of the poem seems perfectly fit for the somber, grim tone of the film. Mix that with flashes of his girlfriend and we have a some very depressing imagery.

Though Ottway is a hunter, he’s never been the one being hunted. In the wild, there are no real weapons. His rifle was destroyed in the plane crash, so essentially all they have left are sticks and some useless rifle bullets. Ottway is the only real woodsman the group has to rely on. Some of the most unnerving scenes are the ones at night. A howling can be heard from not far off. These wolves don’t really seem like ordinary wolves. They are huge and unintimidated by man. Director Joe Carnahan holds nothing back when showing how brutal nature can be.

The Grey does slip into silliness from time to time, namely in the scenes where the team is devouring a wolf carcass and teasing the pack. Nevertheless, Liam Neeson brings his A-game into every scene. One of the best scenes in the entire movie is where Ottway is screaming for a savior, yelling into the sky, but to his remorse, no one answers. This leaves us with a lot of questions about Carnahan’s intentions with his film. It may be that he simply provides us with no easy answers. The Grey certainly offers us just that in ample doses.