By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Liam Neeson is John Ottway, a hunter paid to keep employees safe from predators in a far-Northern Alaska Oil drilling site. His airplane crash lands on its way south to Anchorage, and he is one of a small handful of passengers lucky enough to survive. Unfortunately for them, they crashland on the hunting grounds of a pack of angry wolves. Fortunately for them, he is Liam Neeson.
The Grey is a Jack London-inspired survival story that manages the difficult task of balancing commercial action with arthouse sensibilities. Neeson is a killer for hire, and yet he is incredibly sensitive to the concept of death. He doesn’t philosophize about it, or try to understand it, he simply respects it. Don’t confuse the similarly named survival story The Edge thematically with The Grey. The former was a rather straightforward action movie that delivered fast-paced thrills in a ludicrous scenario. Whereas this movie is a darker, brooding story with just the right amount of action-elements to keep most audiences interested. This is one of Liam Neeson’s strongest career performances, and is all the more surprising coming on the heels of a series of mediocre actioneers that required only for him to use his trademark “deep voice”.
One of the surprising things about the film is how little of the violence is on camera, a choice which helps to up the threat level a few notches by playing on our fear of the unknown. The Grey is at its best when the characters are working together, as filmmaker Joe Carnahan uses these small moments to build on their personalities, giving us a good reason to want to see each one survive. And when the moment comes that one of them dies, the audience can’t help but feel the loss. In Ottway we have a character who very believably assumes control of the group, because he is the one most experienced with living off the land. If I had anything to complain about in the movie, it would be the lack of “parkour-across-mountains” Man Vs. Wild moments.
Beer Two (Spoiler Alert)
At the crash site they had reasonable shelter, fuel for fires, some food, and they were out in an open area where they could easily be spotted. Pretty much every survival guide I’ve seen says that if you crash in the wilderness, it is best to stay near the crash site as long as possible. There is a plot hole in the movie that does bother me quite a bit. Can someone explain to me how the passengers knew that they had flown off the radar? That is the excuse they use for having to leave the crash site in the first place, that the airplane had strayed off course and wasn’t in an area that rescuers would be looking. Also, they had various things they could have used to help fortify the area against wolf attacks. There was only one opening in the plane’s hull, stack some of the frozen bodies up against it to make a choke point. And kill the wolves one by one as they try to force their way in. Anyway, this doesn’t ruin the movie or anything, it just had to be said.
A genuine surprise for a January release. A deeply entertaining, and even thoughtful movie.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: each time a wolf jumps out of nowhere to attack someone
Take a Drink: anytime a female audience member vocalizes how grossed out she is. (Bonus drink if a guy does it)
Drink Mightily and think of Valhalla*: when after killing a wolf, the men gather to cook and consume him, and feast while mocking their enemy even as they watch from the shadows.
*applies only to charter members of Asgard