Monday, January 30, 2012

Baby, I'm Howlin' For You: A Review of The Grey

     Movie trailers can very misleading, and the trailer for The Grey, the newest film to feature Liam Neeson kicking ass (becoming a nice little sub-genre of its own), is no exception: near the end of the preview--which has been on every television station every five minutes for the past month--Neeson's character, Ottway, constructs a homemade version of brass knuckles made out of broken mini liquor bottles (known in my neck of the woods as "nips") and tape, ready to take on a wolf snarling in his direction. The fight that is sure to follow is never shown in the film. Pretend someone asked me this question outside of the movie theater: "Do you think you will enjoy The Grey if Liam Neeson doesn't punch a wolf in the face with shards of glass stuck to his hand?" My answer would have been a resounding "no". Thankfully, I was wrong. The Grey is an early bright spot in the year 2012, a film that is manly, exciting, thoughtful and had me completely transfixed throughout the entire run time.
     Ottway works for an oil company that is based is the freezing-cold far north. He's a sharp shooter that keeps wolves away from the equipment and other employees. The Grey begins with a voice over of Ottway describing the dreadful situation: most of the oil drillers are ex-cons and violent men, cut off from the rest of the world. Not many have any redeemable qualities, at least at first. It's almost like an art-house film at the beginning, with Ottway's calm voice, the freezing cold and snow, and flash-backs of Ottway in bed with with his wife, clearly the only person in the world that means anything to him.
     Ottway and a plethora of other workers enter a plane to fly out on leave. It's stormy, and the dread builds quickly as things start going wrong with the flight. What follows is an extremely disturbing and intense plane crash (this isn't giving anything away if you've seen five seconds of any of the trailers). Seriously, I would not watch this if I were flying on a plane anytime soon--the sound effects are particularly great. Seven men are left alive, but that number quickly dwindles once one gets brutally attacked by a ferocious wolf.
     The film reminded me of me of 1982's John Carpenter version of The Thing, an absolute classic of isolation and horror. With only a few main characters who are cut off from the outside world, each individual is original and well-developed. There's plenty of time for conversation for the men while they wait out winter's elements and wolf attacks, filled with philosophy and discussions on life and (especially) death. We learn the most back story on Ottway, who was contemplating suicide the day before the fateful plane crash. The wolves, not unlike the alien creature in The Thing, are terrifying, violent and smart. They hunt in formations, take out the stragglers fist, and try to outsmart their potential prey instead of overpower them. As Ottway takes the reigns of the situation and becomes somewhat of a leader, he knows they must take down these creatures if they want to stand a chance. But they are also fighting an even more powerful foe: weather--ice, blizzards, and high winds smother the treacherous terrain.
     At one point in the film, Ottway--after seeing and suffering terrible things--calls out to above, begging for help. The camera focuses on the blank sky, looking for an answer. There is, obviously, no response. And there wouldn't be in The Grey, a film that's honest and philosophical in its questions of faith and the notion that a God could put humans in circumstances are terrible as this. Each man must come to grips with his own potential fate, and--God-fearing or not--the wolves continue to attack and winter's weather keeps building layer upon layer of dread and snow.     (A-)

1 comment:

  1. Great review. 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. Check out my review when you get the chance.