Friday, July 20, 2012

The Grey (2012)

Into the Grey

- I am going to cut to the chase: The Grey (2012) is not the kind of film one might immediately expect. The film was packaged as a survival adventure - man vs. nature and all of that - but this definition is simply not accurate. Reuniting A-Team (2010) director Joe Carnahan, producers Ridley and Tony Scott and actor Liam Neeson, The Grey is a very well-made and powerful film with a lot to say.

Neeson (thankfully replacing the originally-cast Bradley Cooper) stars in this film about an oil drilling team struggling to survive in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash. These men must survive fear, injury, hunger, the cold and, worst of all, a pack of territorial wolves that relentlessly pursue them. The Grey is an explosive and intense movie containing some incredible photography and fast paced action but it is at its core an allegorical film about life and death. So before anyone complains that wolves do not really act the way that the film portrays, keep in mind what they symbolize for the characters and the overarching themes of the story.

Liam Neeson has been in allegory-heavy films before (most notably the fantastic Seraphim Falls (2007)) and is outstanding in The Grey as Ottway, a man paid to end the lives of that which now hunts him. With recent films like The Grey, Seraphim Falls, The A-Team, Taken (2008) and Unknown (2011), Neeson has, in a way, stepped into the void left by Clint Eastwood as the aged badass of Hollywood. He has a fantastic combination of natural powerful presence and genuine emotion, which makes him one of the finest and most underrated actors around. The Grey is certainly one of Neeson's best performances in years; the pain, desperation and compassion of Ottway are all gently blended inside Neeson's deep, intense performance. Supporters Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts and Dermont Mulroney (very satisfyingly playing against type) are also impressive in the film but Neeson stands the tallest in the spotlight.

Although occasionally getting lost in the wilderness of pretentiousness and theological canards, The Grey is an intense and thoughtful film that one rarely sees these days. It took some time while watching for me to realize that The Grey was not the survival adventure thriller I expected it to be but the realization opened my eyes to how the film was trying to convey its ideas through the story, which allowed me to enjoy the film in different way. This not to say that I agree full-heartedly with the clearly nihilistic message that is given in the film; Ottway's plea/challenge/curse to God at one point in the film was a moment of particular spiritual ignorance. However, the way that The Grey  spun its yarn is very thoughtful. I did not have to agree point-by-point to enjoy the examination of the ideas that Carnahan and Ian MacKenzie Jeffers (who wrote the original story, Ghost Walker, of which the film is based) put forth through the story. Of course, Liam Neeson's performance and the overall impressive visual and emotional nature of the film itself is entertainment enough as it is; however, the thoughtful cinematic allegory makes The Grey that much more unique.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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