I’m always very cautious about the movies that are released in this time of year. Studios typically choose late January and early February to unload their steaming piles of movie dung. I mean there is a movie out right now starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah! With that in mind I was also somewhat concerned about seeing The Grey. My first impression of this film after viewing the trailer was Liam Neeson out in the winter wild being chased by wolves. I was right, but there is so much more to The Grey than just snow, wolves, and mountains
I’m not really into wolf movies, with men making friends with wolves, wolves talking, or any other wolf type flick. I don’t know why, it’s just a thing I have. In the case of The Grey though, we’re not just watching a movie about men being chased by wolves, we’re talking death, and in a very real and serious manner here.
Synopsis for The Grey – In Alaska, an oil drilling team struggle to survive after a plane crash strands them in the wild. Hunting the humans are a pack of wolves who see them as intruders. – IMDB.com
The synopsis that IMDB gives is a very simple explanation of what this movie is about. There is so much going on in this film that I was intrigued early on and my attention was kept until the very end for a number of reasons. First off, the script was written exceptionally well. In the very beginning of the film we meet the main character Ottway played by Liam Neeson. Ottway is a somewhat tortured soul who works in Alaska as a hired hunter for an oil company. It is his job to watch the other oil workers and make sure that wolves don’t kill them as they do their job. One of the first few scenes is watching Ottway shoot one of these wolfs and then crouching down with his hand on it’s chest to feel it take it’s last breath. The scene is somewhat uncomfortable if you’re an animal lover like me, but necessary to set the tone for the rest of the film.
From that point forward we learn more about Ottway through a series of flashbacks that are all relatively the same. The flashback entails him lying in bed with a woman under the covers and she’s whispering to him “Don’t be afraid.” The first flashback appears you have to wonder who she is, and why is he so torn over her. Slowly and in bits and pieces we learn that she is a lost love. He carry’s a letter he has written to her around with him and reads it repeatedly Ottway is obviously torn over the fact that he can’t be with her and decides he is going to take his own life by putting a rifle in his mouth out behind the refinery where he works. Just before he pulls the trigger the wolves begin to howl, and that is where this movie really begins to take off.
Ottway and a group of guys who also work at the refinery board a plane to return home. These men are described as some of the dangerous outcasts of society who can really only have a place working in a desolate environment like the Alaskan wilderness. The interaction of the men on the plane soon shows us that we’re dealing with a bunch of rough and tumble group of guys. But as tough as they may be, none of them can prepare themselves for the plane crash they soon suffer. In minutes they are in the snow, some dead, some injured, all forced to survive in the blizzard that’s now upon them. There are seven survivors, and we get to know each of them one by one as they die.
As night falls the group of men quickly realize that they are being stalked and hunted by a pack of wolves as they hear the howls and growls coming from the darkness. Soon enough they are being picked off and killed in a calculating fashion. As they decide to move away from the wreckage we are left with five men who will ultimately face their most difficult challenges of their lives.
The Grey is a film that does a few things and does them well. First off it’s directed pretty darn well by Joe Carnahan (The A-Team). The scenes where Ottway has his flashbacks and then the transition into reality is pretty cool. I didn’t know if I was watching the flashback or present day, but ultimately we find out which one it is, and it’s done so in a way that I wasn’t confused There were also some special effects that helped to do this and they only made the scenes that much better. The other thing The Grey does well is its use of symbolism. The Grey isn’t so much a film about a group of guys being hunted by wolves, but rather a film about mortality and how everyman deals with his own demons when his time comes. It’s no accident that this movie takes place in the snow, blizzards, darkness, or the winter of the lives of these men. The wolves are not only used as a device to move the plot along to advance the characters, but they are symbolic of death. Each time the group of men hears the howling of the animals or is approached by them, one of them soon falls victim to their attack.
There are so many layers to this film thematically, symbolically, and visually, that it would be hard for me to cover it all in a short review for this website. It would also be hard for me to sit here are write anything negative about this film. Sure, it’s a little dark on the underlying topics that it covers, but on the surface this film is action-oriented and fully entertaining. There is not one dull moment, or a moment that leaves you wanting more. Every single scene in this film is entertaining in one-way or the other up until the very end. Not only was the film written and directed well, but the acting was also fantastic. Sure Liam was awesome like he usually is but Dermot Mulroney was great too as well as the other actors in the film.
For being released in the dead of Hollywood winter, a time when the movie-going landscape is filled with films that are dead on arrival, The Grey stands out as a fierce and fully entertaining piece of art. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who appreciates film, action, and drama.