“The Grey”: Neeson Fights with Wolves, Philosophizes
“The Grey” is a flawed film. There’s no denying it. Whether it’s the unrealistic ruthlessness of a pack of wolves or a rope made out of cloth somehow sustaining the weight of burly men as they cross over a deep valley, it’s riddled with imperfection. Yet, it somehow doesn’t matter in the world of the film. As we enter this desolate and frozen tundra where human life is foreign, it seems as though the laws of nature follow their own rules. If you can accept this and be open to a universe that’s only slightly akin to our own, “The Grey” will captivate and entice until its polarizing, yet fitting, finale.
Still on the action high that “Taken” must have given him, Liam Neeson portrays John Ottway, a sharpshooter hired by an oil company to prevent vicious animals from attacking their vulnerable employees in the Alaskan wilderness. In the opening moments of the film, Ottway dictates a letter to his wife as he prepares to kill himself. Just as he’s about to pull the trigger, a wolf howls in the distance and overpowers his desire for death for the time being. Instead, Ottway decides to travel home on the company plane. It unexpectedly crashes, leaving him and seven others stranded in the middle of the treacherous void from which he’s worked so hard to protect them. They’re forced to travel across the wilderness, hopefully towards dim civilization, as a pack of monstrous wolves slowly picks them off one by one.
Director Joe Carnahan shows some of his best work here, which isn’t too difficult for the man who also made “Smokin’ Aces” and “The A-Team.” Still, “The Grey” proves that he has matured as a filmmaker. Breathtaking shots of the heartless wilderness as well as the human elements given to the secondary characters highlight his potential for future films. And let it be known that if you ever want a death scene done right, Carnahan is the way to go. The simple elegance he employs makes each moment somber and extremely powerful.
Liam Neeson is currently Hollywood’s biggest badass, and the trailer for “The Grey” sets the movie up to be an action thriller in the same vein as his recent films. Yet this is not the case. While there are plenty of epic Neeson-vs-Wolf moments, the film actually turns out to be more of a philosophical journey for the men. Concepts such as the existence of God, the meaning of life, and the acceptance of death are all addressed multiple times throughout. Still, the most compelling aspect of the “The Grey” is Ottway’s desperate fight with the wilderness. Seeing his efforts to save everyones’ lives without learning any background on his suicide attempt render him all the more fascinating to observe. In the final moments of the film, we finally understand who and what Ottway really is, which makes the ending even more justifiable.
The expectations surrounding this film made it somewhat of a disappointment for many. Those who wanted an action thriller sighed in frustration after the screen went black. I just sat still and tried to take it all in. I can understand the frustration, but in light of the entire scope of the movie, the ending is certainly warranted.
If you still want some sort of explanation, I’d suggest reading the poem Ottway recites several times throughout the film: “Once more into the fray/Into the last good fight I’ll ever know/Live and die on this day/Live and die on this day.”