Title: The Grey
Directed By: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, James Badge Dale, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, Dallas Roberts, Ben Bray
Liam Neeson and director Joe Carnahan are back together again, but this time around, they’re working with material that’s far less fun than The A-Team. But less fun doesn’t make The Grey a bad movie. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Rather than turn The Grey into an utterly unrealistic survival adventure story, we get something far darker and, while it still has those handful of moments that make you think twice, it completely sells the severity of the situation.
Neeson’s Ottway works for a petroleum company in the icy tundra of Alaska. Amidst the other ex-cons, fugitives and “men unfit for mankind,” Ottway’s job is to keep them safe by shooting down invading wolves. When it’s time to return to society, Ottway and a number of his colleagues board a plane to Anchorage. Along the way, turbulent weather takes hold and the plane comes crashing down in the middle of nowhere – actually, in the middle of wolf territory.
The few survivors are thankful to be alive, but soon come to the harsh realization that they’re being hunted. With no food and few supplies, the group has to band together to keep each other safe from the wolves who look to viciously pick them off one-by-one.
Perhaps if you synopsize Taken, that movie would comes across as pretty grim, too, but The Grey really is particularly dark. Except for the fact that he’s being portrayed by Liam Neeson, there’s really not much to like about Ottway. Then again, Neeson is really all you need. Neeson’s a commanding force on the big screen and the same is true of Ottway. Unlike Bryan Mills in Taken, Ottway’s got no family, but he still steps up amongst the survivors, earning your concern, but in a wholly different way. You’re rooting for Ottway, but, at the same time, there’s still a degree of ambiguity to him and that only adds to the unease of The Grey.
Typically, this is where the group comes in to fill out the necessary personalities. Yes, Joe Anderson functions as The Grey’s comedic relief and is particularly successful in the role, but, again, his character bears such a degree of tragedy that you can laugh at his jokes, but once the moment passes, you’re sucked right back into this bleak reality. Frank Grillo’s Diaz most certainly has the biggest personality of the bunch. The group’s loose cannon, we can always count on Diaz to spice things up, even when the wolves are at bay.
James Badge Dale and Dermot Mulroney function as the two more levelheaded survivors, which, at first provides a very necessary sense of hope, but when Ottway’s plan starts to unravel, also leaves room for more character development, keeping The Grey feeling rather fresh from beginning to end, despite the fact that their goal stays the same from start to finish.
Enhancing the all-around solid performances is cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi’s keen eye for, well, the cold. On top of the white landscape and group’s desperate attempt to keep themselves from freezing by bundling up, Takayanagi really lets the treacherous conditions sink in, getting up close to capture their feet sinking deep into the snow and letting the snowfall command the front plain of his frames. There are a small handful of moments where it seems as though the snow was digitally inserted, but that’ll likely go unnoticed unless you’re looking for it.
Then there’s the blood and there’s certainly nothing more striking than getting a look at red-stained snow. The wolves in general make for a successful opposition. The pack doesn’t take form like co-writers Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers seem to have wanted, differentiating the alpha from his subordinates, but as a whole, they’re threatening enough.
For those going into The Grey expecting the next Taken, you most certainly should turn your attention to Taken 2. (That is still happening, right?) Whereas Taken leaves you wanting to cheer for Neeson, The Grey leaves you with a bit of a pit in your stomach. Some of that comes from a rather unsatisfying ending, but it’s much more so because Carnahan absolutely nails the tone and while that might not have as broad of an appeal as the feel of Taken, it still is very good for what it is.