Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo
The two syllable title of the latest film from Joe Carnahan, director of The A-Team, suggests much about the movie itself—it is sparse, simple and ominous. The small main cast—arguably only Ottway (Liam Neeson) himself—is supported by scarce dialogue and barely innovative plot yet somehow manages to transform a seen-before survival story into something intangibly impellent.
The story focuses on Ottway, a hired sniper for a major petroleum company who spends his shifts defending workers from the Alaskan wild, most notably wolves. He and a crew are stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after their plane crashes—a short page that, once turned, allows the story to unfold.
Most of the characters are unsavory, at least to begin with, and for the most part unlikeable. This is with the exception of Ottway, who is a stereotypical Neeson character—rugged, badass and taciturn. The plot is initially typical, though far from yawn-worthy—the men must survive a harsh climate and harsher enemies, the timberwolves—and deviates quickly from a banausic survival story, weaving in threads of horror and drama to create a well-knit though hardly intricate narrative.
Were it not for the un-genre-like insertions, the movie would have been boring, other than for a few startling moments, a handful of gruesome scenes, and a handsome spattering of curse-words and violence. The characters often reminisce, and their flashbacks are vivid, swift, and anguished. The snapshots of their lives form a collage of memories, a running theme in the movie. A variety of other subtle techniques are also used to thread together The Grey’s tapestry, enlacing layers and dimensions into a plot teetering on the edge of unifarious obscurity.
Ottway’s poignant memories, wordless struggle with depression and instant appeal make him the natural focal point, though the storied histories, revealed one stitch at a time, of the other characters make them almost as intriguing. The characterizations deviate from the unidimensional norm. Many of them grow and respond to circumstances in ways that exhibit their development, when most in a movie like this tend to stagnate and die.
The Grey is white-knuckled fun, just deep enough to engage a critical mind, and developed thoroughly to keep everyone’s attention. The movie will leave you afraid of flying, afraid of wolves, shivering from perceived cold and debating what happened in the final scene.