- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Open Road Films
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
oe Carnahan’s career hasn’t exactly gone the way that many people expected it to after his critically acclaimed debut, “Narc,” and I’d be willing to bet that one of those people is Carnahan himself. Though his last project, the big screen adaptation of “The A-Team,” was a nice diversion that proved a lot more fun than it probably deserved to be, the director looks like he's finally gotten his career back on track with “The Grey.” A survival horror thriller that's more serious than it looks, "The Grey" may disappoint those who feel duped by the trailers promising an action-packed showdown between Liam Neeson and some wolves, but it's still a solid adventure film for a completely different reason.
Neeson stars as John Ottway, a recently widowed and deeply depressed employee of an Alaskan oil drilling company whose sole job is to shoot down any wolves that threaten to attack his fellow roughnecks working on the rigs. While on a flight back to Anchorage for a little R&R, the plane encounters a severe snowstorm and crashes somewhere in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. With several men dead and others carrying minor injuries, Ottway jumps into action to prepare them for survival against the merciless weather conditions. But when they discover that they’re also being hunted by a pack of wild wolves trying to protect their territory, the men start to get picked off one by one as they make a run for the woods in order to better defend themselves and wait for rescue.
There are going to be a lot of angry moviegoers who feel betrayed by the marketing for “The Grey,” because just like Open Road Films’ debut release, “Killer Elite,” the amount of action in the film isn’t nearly as bountiful as the trailers suggest. There’s some really great survival-based action sprinkled throughout – in addition to the punishing weather and killer wolves, the men also have to deal with the terrain itself – but Carnahan is quick to squash any delusions that these guys have a chance against their predators. That doesn’t mean they don’t try to fight back, but you pretty much know how it’s going to end as soon as the first few guys get torn to pieces. Where “The Grey” differs from a typical slasher movie, however, is that it doesn’t just treat its victims like pieces of meat.
Not everyone in the cast is afforded the opportunity to flesh out their characters as much as others (James Badge Dale and Joe Anderson are wasted in small cameos, while Dermot Mulroney spends most of the film in the background), but Liam Neeson and character actor Frank Grillo really impress in two of the more prominent roles. Neeson elevates the material as expected thanks to his strong screen presence, but while this may be his movie, nobody told Grillo, because he outshines his co-star in virtually every scene they share together as a loud-mouthed ex-con with arguably the film's best arc.
It’s refreshing to see a movie that is willing to take the time to develop its characters, because it humanizes them beyond simple wolf fodder. Although Carnahan’s attempt to inject a little existential discussion into the story during these quieter moments could have been handled more elegantly, it gives the film some much-needed emotional weight that actually makes you invested in the fate of Ottway and the rest of the guys. "The Grey" can be a bit too philosophical at times when you'd rather just watch Neeson punch a wolf in the face, but while that kind of fantasy may deliver the instant adrenaline rush you want, it's the bleak realism of the movie that stays with you long after it's over.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Fans will probably be disappointed by the lackluster collection of special features on Universal's Blu-ray release of "The Grey," but although the included deleted/extended scenes aren't particularly interesting, the audio commentary with director Joe Carnahan and editors Roger Barton and Jason Hellmann is a pretty engaging conversation about making the film. Also included is a DVD and digital copy if you care about stuff like that.