Joe Carnahan’s The Grey
An Alaska based oil mining worker named Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a loner who has reached a desperate place in his life due to a personal loss. His current occupation (killing wolves to keep the other miners safe) definitely isn’t helping him deal with his anguish. All he has left is a glimmer of hope things might get better. We get a sense immediately that the lives Ottway and the other guys lead are unstable and quite bleak. They work long hours outside in the frigid environment and then get piss blind drunk every night for entertainment.
With their current job finished, Ottway and his rowdy co-workers load onto a plane to head home. One of the guys, Flannery (Joe Anderson) sits down next to him and tries to make small talk but Ottway is clearly uninterested and annoyed at his presence. Seeing Ottway isn’t going to be good company he just gets up and moves and the feeling of tension increases. As the plane flies along, the turbulence picks up and the men get irritated when Flannery begins cracking dumb jokes about crashing. Later on, in the darkened quiet cabin the men all try to get some rest and Ottway has a beautiful dream about being with his wife in a bed. This peaceful escape abruptly ends when he’s violently awakened as the plane begins to lose altitude and come apart at the seams. The destruction and mayhem is terrifying and lightning quick. Ottway secures himself to the seat as fast as he can but blacks out and wakes again to find himself alone on a frozen mountainside. He tries to see if anyone else has survived and finds remnants of the plane nearby with several of the other passengers scattered like rags, some are dead, some are not.
One of the passengers Lewenden (James Badge Dale) still in the plane has clearly had a fatal injury and the men all gather around to comfort him. Ottway tells the wounded man point blank he is dying and to accept it and let himself go. This scene is extremely disturbing as the men closely watch the man’s lifeforce slowly leave his body. This life meets death moment is really the start of the epic battle of wills that they must endure. Ottway proceeds to take charge and tells the group including: Flannery (Joe Anderson), Talget (Dermot Mulroney), Hernandez (Ben Bray), Diaz (Frank Grillo) Burke (Nonso Anonzie) and Hendrick (Dallas Roberts) to help him make a fire and gather as much materials as possible. They try to keep themselves composed and busy but soon they encounter a community of ravenous wolves that begin stalking them and systematically blood begins to spill.
Knowing that their only chance to live is to move on, they begin making their way to a forest in the far off distance. It looks like a good place to take shelter from the wild creatures, if only for a little while. When they finally reach the wilderness the wolves immediately begin to close in and it looks like they’re finished. The noises the pack make are terrifying and sound like hell unleashed…but then nothing occurs. In the meantime, there’s only so much Ottway and his pack can do to protect themselves under the dire circumstances such as continual movement, building fires and creating crude weapons like “bang sticks” which are sharpened pieces of wood with shotgun shells placed at the end. When they are rammed hard into a target it explodes like a gun.
The fight to stay alive is broken up by moments of male bonding which brings out much of the films humor as well as discussions about God and faith. There is a layer of inherant alpha male machismo (as you’d expect) but it is just not enough to sustain life because of the fact humans are very frail when pitted against such unforgiving forces of nature. Simply put, none of these guys are John Rambo, they’re just ordinary joes who are scared and doing the best they can to get through the insane situation they’re faced with. If anyone is closest to what you’d call a “hero” it’s Ottway who seems to fit best into the “Jeremiah Johnson” mold, but even he isn’t indestructible, he just has the intelligence and heart needed to get him through this difficult human test. It’s another perfect role for Liam Neeson as he brings the old tortured soul/Irish warrior aspect into the fray.
What’s most apparent throughout this cinematic adventure is how far Joe Carnahan, Liam Neeson and the rest of the cast and crew went to capture the realism of the bone-chilling atmosphere. It looked extremely uncomfortable for a production and you can tell they must’ve put in some tough work shooting these sequences.
The Grey is easily one of 2012’s best films and those who enjoy furious survival movies where normal human beings are pushed to the mad as hell limits will definitely love it. Joe Carnahan has made a truly thrilling work of action-adventure cinema. We highly recommend it!
ON THE DIGITAL PRESENTATION: Recently there has been quite a controversy within the film community in regards to the transition from 35mm celluloid to digital. While I will always love real film, I have no problems watching movies projected digitally. I do understand that the magic of film comes from still images running through the projector which then creates an illusion of motion. Yet at the same time I don’t see the point in trying to battle technology or the future, I’d rather embrace it. The way visual stories are told requires all kinds of tools and ultimately what I care most about is seeing a GOOD STORY. How it is brought to the screen or shown in a theater setting is secondary to me.
Check out some of our other favorite furious survival genre films: HERE