The Grey

Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, NonsoAnozie, James Badge Dale.
Distributor: Icon Films
Runtime: 117 mins. Reviewed in Feb 2012
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: strong coarse language, strong violence

The Grey is an unusual meditation on death and the meaning of life, which masks its true intent by posing as a thriller-cum-horror story. Based on the short story Ghost Stalker by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, the story follows seven men who survive a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, and explores the way each man copes with the imminence of death, as represented by howling wolves.

All the survivors of the crash are members of an oil-drilling team based in Alaska’s Arctic oil-fields, and although the men know each other, having spent long periods working together as a team, they are virtually strangers. Each has his own reason for working so far from home: to be able to provide for loved ones better, or to escape from himself or others. In such hostile, sub-zero conditions, the natural leader of the men becomes John Ottway (Liam Neeson), an Irishman who understands the nature of wolves, and it is Ottway’s story that becomes the film’s focus.

When we first meet Ottway, he is suffering a nameless grief at being separated from his wife, and is in the process of writing her a letter. Ottway considers taking his own life, and only the call of a wolf saves him. But after the plane crash, when he wakes in a howling blizzard to find himself alive and at the mercy of wolves, something more primitive overtakes him, an urge to live that forces Ottway to face his essential nature, and make peace as best he can with forces beyond himself.

The Grey is a mysterious, compelling and at times frightening film. The plane crash is not for timid viewers, neither are the wolf attacks, which are given supernatural intensity through animatronics and heightened sound. But as each man struggles to survive against overwhelming odds, we follow them avidly, gripped by their fear yet gaining the same brief but revelatory insight into them, as they do to themselves.

Liam Neeson (Rob Roy, Schindler’s List, Taken) is an actor of commanding power, and one suspects that his role in The Grey lies close to the bone. There are scenes in which Ottway mourns his disconnection from his wife, and others in which she appears in dreams to encourage him, and it is difficult not to see in these genuine expressions of despair and puzzlement, something of Neeson’s grief for his own lost wife, Natasha Richardson.

Filmed in Canada, The Grey boasts splendid cinematography from Masanobu Takayanagi. Most important to the film’s believability however is the fine acting of the ensemble, Joe Anderson as the immature Todd and Frank Grillo as the difficult loner, Diaz, especially, while director and co-writer Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) shows himself in this introspective thriller to be a director of power and conviction.

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