Sunday, December 9, 2012
Live Or Die On This Day
The Grey (2011) / US / Out on DVD now / Directed by Joe Carnahan / Written by Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers / Starring Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, James Badge Dale, Ben Bray / 117 mins.
Of late, Liam Neeson has made a name for himself as a go-to action guy who has you sorted with his special skills. Taken seemed to have Neeson in a career path that would lead him straight up to being in The Expendables 3. However, we mustn't forget that Neeson made his name with an Oscar nominated performance in Schindler's List, and since then, he's shown a remarkable range of versatility that has been whittled down to action fodder. The Grey may not be a drama set up for Oscars, but it shows Neeson doing what he does best - not just ass-kicking, but carrying a film from start to end with dedicated conviction instead of using supposed invincibility as a mask. And through this, we get an utterly terrifying man vs. wild film that doesn't ramp up anyone's skills when faced with a challenge, instead examining how they deal with it.
Neeson plays Ottway, who works as a man killing wolves for an oil drilling team in Alaska. He plans to commit suicide, but he is stopped, and then returns home with the rest of his team. The plane they're on crashes, with only a handful of the team surviving. Those survivors are left in blizzard conditions in practically the middle of nowhere. With few supplies and no apparent way of finding a way out, the team are hit with another problem: the area that the plane crashed in also happens to be infested with wolves who are ready to kill them.
The movie isn't just a survival thriller filled with lots of wolves killing people. It works best as an existential character drama, meaning that anyone looking for Taken in the snow will likely be disappointed. There are quite a few rather heavy-handed discussions about religion, loss of faith and such, which do drag down the pacing a little bit. However, they do offer an interesting insight to these men who lie somewhere between giving up their lives to the wolves or fighting for an uncertain survival. The men start off as anonymous beings, shown in the plane to be loud and unthoughtful, but once they're put into this situation, their true nature comes out. I thought it was nice that everyone, with the exception of Ottway, is given a seemingly blank canvas to build upon, and the existential themes are used as the paint to flesh out the survivors. Sometimes it seems a little overly sentimental that we find out the main bones of some of these people in their dying moments, but as the Joker said in The Dark Knight, "in their last moments, people show you who they really are." Even though Ottway's character is fairly well set up, we don't find out the reasoning behind why he wants to commit suicide until the very end. It is rather interesting that he emerges as the guy who pretty much tries to save everyone and fights his hardest to stay alive even though he's terribly afraid, considering how we're introduced to him via a suicide note. That envelopes the entire point of The Grey - it is an existential study on characters who are on the brink of existence.
Because of that fact, the wolves are barely on screen, but they still pose as terrifying villains. I always find it interesting when the villains can't be controlled and aren't calculated, and those wolves more than fit the bill. To go along with them, the freezing conditions provide a secondary, but perhaps even worse villain. These guys are in hell on Earth, even though the crisp blue rivers and tranquil serenity of it all makes everything look like heaven. You'll want to be watching the movie wrapped up in blankets with a fire close by - even in the heart of Summer.
Anchored by a fantastic performance from Liam Neeson, who is backed up fantastically by Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts and many others, The Grey is a fine example of a survival thriller. Joe Carnahan's film is somewhat underrated considering it has largely been forgotten since it first surfaced in January. While the film shouldn't be applauded for its perfection, there are several components which stand out from the crowd. And at age 60, this film shows that Neeson still has plenty of fight left in him - fight that pits him against wolves, of course.
What I got: