Film review by: Witney Seibold
I was disappointed there wasn’t more wolf mayhem. I wanna see a pissed off Liam Neeson punching wolves!
Joe Carnahan‘s “The Grey” is a cold, textured, and harrowing film about the ugly desperation of survival, and the hope we try to mine from different places, if any hope exists. It strikes a tone of, well, grey bleakness from beginning to end. Our hero has given up on life, and finds that, when life is all he has left, he’s willing to fight.
Liam Neeson plays a large, steely-eyed, broad-shouldered Alaskan miner named Ottway who has been hired to shoot the wolves that come near the mine. This is a modern place of grizzled castoffs. The bar seems to be perpetually full. I imagine no one would willing take such a job unless they were fleeing from something, or desperate for work. Early in the film, we see Ottway putting a gun barrel in his mouth, accompanied by flashbacks of a blissful time in bed with a pretty woman. An ex-wife? This is a wounded man.
Ottway gets on a plane with some mining buddies, and it promptly crashes in the wilds of Alaska. A few people survive. One of the survivors, bleeding to death, is talked into oblivion by Ottway. His calming description of death belies the thoughts of a depressed man. Trapped in the bitter cold, and salvaging what food they could from the plane wreckage, Ottway and a group of peers find themselves fighting off bitter cold, potential starvation, and a group of angry wolves. Ottway explains about the wolves, and while there are a few people who doubt him and panic at him, he seems like a calm authority.
Ottway is a not a grizzled badass, but a horrified and hopeless man whose default “surivual mode” is the only thing keeping him upright. There are some recognizable character types amongst his peers. There’s the hopeful father looking to get home (Durmot Mulroney), there’s the puffed-up ex-con (Frank Grillo), there’s the flip wisecracking one (Joe Anderson). In many films to depict people in desperate situations, there is often a scene or two of people merely screaming at one another as to what step to take, and who should be in charge, and such scenes are usually insufferable, and need to be waited through. “The Grey” has a fewe hints at such things, but Carnahan seems to have a more realistic grip on how desperate people react in extreme situations. With goals in mind to distract them from their situation. Eventually our heroes leave the crash site, venture into the woods (will they be safer there? Who is to say?), and try to trek their way to safety. They die off one at a time. In ways you don’t want.
The film eventually comes to a scene where Ottway, in a final plea, calls to God to save him, only to renounce Him. “Fuck it,” he says “I’ll do it myself.”
“The Grey,” through its posters and marketing, seems to be promising a film of over-the-top action and mayhem. What it delivers instead is a bleak, compelling and powerful tragedy about survival, and how life can wear you down to a point of needing to physically fight back just to stay standing. There are tastes of hopes along the way, but the film is largely grey.
Stay through the credits. You may find something to satisfy you. You may.