The Grey is a perfect example of false advertising. Much like last year’s Unknown, this film seeks to replicate the success of Taken by marketing itself as a nonstop action film. This is not the case, however. In truth, The Grey is something so much better. Directed by Joe Carnahan, it tells the story of a small group of men, the only survivors of a plane crash in the mountains of Alaska, that must try to survive and get to safety, all while avoiding a pack of wolves that are picking them off one by one. Liam Neeson plays a man named Ottway who, due to his knowledge of survival skills, becomes the leader of the group.
Though Carnahan’s past films have been over-the-top explosion-fests, like Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team, this film is a complete one-eighty. Rather than filling the film with wall-to-wall action scenes, more effort is put into creating a constant sense of dread, in which danger can come at any time. This feeling pervades the film, through both the slow, character driven moments and the more intense moments. And the peril in this film is intense. From the plane crash to the wolf attacks, these scenes feel very real, and very frightening.
The film is given emotional weight by the fact that every character in this film is fleshed out. They are all given ample screen time and characterization, so that the audience connects to them. This makes the dread that much more powerful, since the audience truly cares about what happens to these people, and each death is a truly powerful moment.
Liam Neeson’s performance in the film is outstanding, better than anything he’s done in years. He has a powerful presence that anchors the film, though he is also a team player, letting the other actors stretch their muscles too. The cinematography and editing in the film work as perfect compliments to each other. They capture the beauty of the surroundings, while never losing the constant danger and tension in the environment.
Most important, though, are the writing and directing, both of which perfectly fit the film. The screenplay takes the time to flesh out each and every character and manages to successfully avoid cliches. Carnahan’s direction, meanwhile, keeps things moving at a more measured pace for most of the film. This gives the audience time to realize what’s going on around the men and what’s at stake. It also makes it that much more jarring when the pace drastically increases during the more intense moments. This measured pace also means that the dread and intensity stays with the audience, even after the immediate danger is no longer present. The film doesn’t ever truly give the audience time to relax, though. Even when things seem safe for the moment, there is always the feeling that danger is just around the corner.
This is a movie that could have taken the easy way out, but instead it chooses to avoid cliches and craft a truly intense experience. The Grey is not a film for the feint of heart, its violence and peril, though not constant, are very intense and brutal. However, for those that have the nerves to brave this journey, The Grey will prove to be a truly rewarding and emotional experience.
Review by Alex Spear