Ever since the dawn of communication, people have created and recounted tales of the battle between humanity and the elements; Man Vs. Nature, Man Vs. Beast, etc. In modern times, the stories are more immediate and distressing due to our reliance on conveniences that have dulled our senses and instincts, made us unprepared and unsuited for the wild. If left to your own devices, what would you do to survive? What would keep you motivated? How do you not give up? These questions are asked of and by the men at the heart of the new thriller, The Grey.
The Grey focuses on Ottway (Liam Neeson), a man who has seemingly lost everything, including his will to live. He boards a plane to Anchorage, Alaska with several other men which ends up crashing deep into the middle of nowhere. With only seven survivors total, Ottway must lead the men in a desperate struggle to overcome their fears and survive the harsh realities of the unforgiving wilderness, bitter snow and bloodthirsty wolves.
If there are two primary descriptors I would use for this film, they are harrowing and terrifying. Director Joe Carnahan does a magnificent job of presenting a dire situation with skill and precision. His direction has never been this assured and confident. The snowy landscapes feel cold and unyielding. He presents the characters in a sensible fashion, never sensationalizing their attitudes or actions. These feel like real men you encounter everyday, and that realism makes many of their deaths very difficult to witness. Assisting with this are the incredible performances of the entire cast, notably Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, and Dermot Mulroney. But this is primarily Liam Neeson’s movie, and he is simply magnificent. The ads for this film make it seem like “Taken with wolves,” but there’s more depth and soul to the character of Ottway. He’s a broken man who must muster up enough willpower to assist the others in his care. Neeson delivers in every way possible with a performance that could very well be one of the few that defines his career.
Where does the word “terrifying” comes into play? The wolves. The wolves in this movie are utterly terrifying. Each scene with them plays less like an action film and more like a horror movie. They often strike without warning, and without sympathy or mercy. The camerawork in these scenes is often frenetic and disorienting, but the effect is sobering and alarming. The wolves are brought to life with a combination of CGI by Digital Dimension & Zoic Studios and animatronics by Greg Nicotero. There isn’t a false or unbelievable moment. These wolves are consistently well-realized and scary as hell.
I promise to remain completely spoiler-free with what I am about to say, but if there is one complaint to be had with the film, it is the ending. It is very abrupt, and will leave many audience members unsatisfied. I get why they end the film the way they do. I understand what the writer and director wanted to say. However, the same message could have been communicated whilst still delivering a more conclusive ending. As it stands, the current ending just left me feeling empty. It’s enough to mark the film down slighly.
My misgivings about the ending aside, though, The Grey is an extraordinary film about the will to live and fight for your life, whether it’s overcoming outside threats or overcoming your own doubts and fears. Many films have portrayed men going savage to survive the wild. The Grey dares to show these men maintaining their humanity and dignity to reach the same ends.