The Grey (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Grey (2012)

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Once more into the fray.
Into the last good fight I'll ever know.
Live or die on this day.
Live or die on this day.

We all will die one day. It's the sad fact of life that people do not want to think about what goes unspoken, but that truth is always there.  Most movies wouldn't want to touch on this fact because it can seriously bum you out, but Joe Carnahan takes this unsettling reality of the world and slaps the audience in the face with it repeatedly in his new film The Grey.

Liam Neeson as Ottway opens the film in voiceover describing that the people he works with in the middle of snowy Alaska as people that society has no use for; you can tell that he doesn’t have any friends in the frozen wilderness. The first fifteen minutes of the film spells out what the movie is going to be about because the dialogue is sparse, with only Liam Neeson’s voiceover as he is writing a letter (possibly a suicide note) to his late wife.

Ottway goes to the bar to have a drink but does not interact with anyone and soon leaves alone to go out and swallow the barrel of his gun.  While kneeling in the snow, ready to pull the trigger, he stops and puts his gun away, to live another day.  Why does he decide to keep living?  It is evident that Ottway has no family and he is s stranger to most of his co-workers but yet he can’t do it, for reasons probably not even known to him. He still has the will to live.

This will shows itself again during one of the most harrowing plane crashes caught on film.  During the crash, when Ottway knows the plane is going down, he doesn’t buckle one seat belt, but two.  Typically a person that has given up on life would not show this much fight to survive, they would let gravity due its work, yet Ottway wants to go out on his terms and is too much a fighter to go out like that.

After the plane crashes, we meet the rest of the survivors stranded out in the middle of nowhere battling the elements.  This is the one place the film misses the mark because none of the other characters are introduced that well or given much personality beyond the clichéd adventure prototypes of loud mouthed asshole, soft spoken man, one who is sick, etc.

But this is forgiven soon when Ottway goes over to a severely injured man and bluntly tells him he is going to die, there is nothing that anyone can do for him.  Then the first of many very powerful scenes for Neeson, he comforts the dying man by holding his hand and telling him to think of loved ones taking him home and let death wash over him.  This calms the man and he dies peacefully instead of in terror.  This is the movie once again showing that all will die, the only choice you have is how you go out.

When all is settled, there are eight survivors who are not friends, have nothing in common and only are together because they have a desire to survive and there is strength in numbers. To survive this ordeal will not be easy because of top of the below zero temperatures, the fact that they have nothing to eat and no shelter, they also have huge friggin wolves chasing them down.

Ottway, who was hired by the oil company to shoot wolves so the oil drillers are protected, knows what they're up against.  This is one of my favorite aspects of the film because in a lesser movie the filmmaker would have taken the easy way out and made Ottway an expert on all things wolves and surviving the elements.  They had an actor in Neeson that could sell the hell out of him being the all-encompassing woodsman but instead they give him enough knowledge to know the situation they were in.  Ottway studied wolves to know what he was up against and knows that wolves will stay away from men unless the strangers are close to the den, then the wolves will fight to their last breath to protect their home.

After the first night and after the wolves attack again, Ottway doesn’t know where to go but knows that they can’t stay by the wreckage of the plane because the wolves will not back down.  At this point Ottway just starts winging it and marches them men off towards the trees, again showing more fight than a suicidal man would give.

The viewer must again ask why he is fighting so hard.  It is not to protect his friends because the other survivors are mostly strangers to him, it is not to get back to loved ones because he has no one left.  While many people might see this movie as anti-religion, I think that something in him propels him to keep fighting and made him put down the gun in the early part of the film.  I wouldn’t say that it was God or anything like that because I don’t believe that is what the director Carnahan was aiming for, but maybe his soul/spirit was not willing to let go of the fight.

By this point in the movie, the survivors had been in a crash, are freezing, hungry and are being hunted by wolves.  Yet, they keep trekking for many different reasons.  One wants to get back to his family, another one wants to see his daughter with the long hair again, but they all have their reasons to keep walking and the fight to survive.

Again, in a more typical survival movie, the film would have made you care about some of the characters more than others because they have a reason to live.  Maybe their wife is pregnant or they were going to get married, but those movies guide the viewer to root for them because of their story.  What The Grey does differently is it says all people have a reason to live.  Everyone has people that will miss them or that special someone that would like to see again, and this makes everyone special and yet not at the same time.  The people that died in the plane crash had loved ones too but that didn’t keep them from death and trying to figure out why some people survive and some don’t is pointless.

The movie asks how much of a will do some people have to survive.  Does that actually make a difference?  Death is a main character in The Grey and the movie could have been called “The Worst Ways to Die” and would have been an apt title.  Yet, the movie isn’t as much of a downer as I make it sound because of the work of the cast and crew.

Neeson gives one of his best performances in his long and successful career and there are many moments that what he does goes beyond acting and it is evident that he is exorcizing some demons from his personal life.  He is gripping, powerful and it will go down as a role that he will be remembered for.  While this will never happen, I would be rooting for him to win an Oscar for this role if he was nominated for this awesome performance.

Ever since Narc,  I have been waiting for director Joe Carnahan to capitalize on the talent that he has and he finally does with The Grey.  While striking out with the awful and silly Smokin Aces and doing nothing more than making a (very enjoyable) action spectacle with The A-Team,  Carnahan again proves why he is a director who is one to watch for in the future.  He can easily move from thrilling action scenes full of suspense to quiet mediatations on fate and the will to live with out it being jarring.  The movie uses the surroundings so well that it wouldn’t matter if you watched this movie on the hottest day of the year, you would feel cold while watching it.  Carnahan again has found his voice and made a film that will resonate with people for a long time to come.  He has found a great collaborator with Neeson and I hope they go on to make more films like this.

Finally, don’t go into The Grey expecting Liam Neeson to punch some wolves in the face, that is not what the film is about even though the marketing would wish you to believe that.  On the other hand, don’t dismiss this film because it came out in January and wolves are a crucial competent.  The Grey is a superb film that tackles subjects that most films would dare not do.  Although it is early in the year, I think I will be revisiting this movie in about 11 months when I do my best of list.  If it's not on there, we are in for a great year of cinema because The Grey is one hell of a film.

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Posted by Ryan

Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. That’s quite the impressive write-up, and I had no idea Joe Carnahan was the director, which makes sense since a lot of the themes you’re chatting about here are very similar to NARC. I’ll need to check this out ASAP.

  2. Great review Ryan. Neeson is out-standing here and gives probably one of his best performances that we have seen from him in a very long time. The rest of the film also works because there’s not only this certain paranoia going on but even when the “action” comes, it’s tense, brutal, and surprising. Best film of the year so far even though that’s definitely not saying much.

  3. Andrew, I am very curious what you will think since you also have Narc love. Dan, it is weird to say the best film so far of the year at the end of January but I think this movie will hold up through the year and still be one of the best at the end.

  4. no for cereal can you guys make accounts on here cause I would love for that to be me when I post

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