There must have been a point, probably around the time that cinematic blight The Phantom Menace was pooped onto our screens, where the once esteemed actor Liam Neeson said, “screw it, I’m just going to do action movies and make millions”. Clash of the Titans, Narnia, Taken, The A-Team and other forgettable outings have reduced him to a handy blockbuster actor. But credit to him, he still manages to add magnetism and actorly resonance to these otherwise superficial roles. He is, after all, Liam Neeson: Savior of the Irish (Michael Collins) the Scottish (Rob Roy), and the Jewish (Schindler’s List).
The Grey is the latest in Neeson’s roles that revolve around him as a centripetal force, on whom everyone else’s fate hangs. Ottway (Neeson) is a wanderer; heartbroken and suicidal, he finds himself working on an oil-rig in the remote Alaskan wilderness, charged with protecting his co-workers from the roaming wolves that surround the station. A hunter.
After a plane trip home goes spectacularly awry, he finds himself stranded with the survivors; a disparate collection of rugged outcasts. It soon becomes apparent that no rescue is coming, and this dysfunctional group must rely on each other to survive the blizzard, lack of food and, most alarmingly, the large pack of territorial wolves determinedly whittling down their numbers.
From this point on Director Joe Carnahan’s The Grey becomes a viscerally intense and bloody film, and a respectable member of the snow-survival genre alongside The Thing, Cliffhanger, Alive and The Shining*. The gray wolves are represented with a primal-fear-producing malevolence; It made me hate wolves a bit.
It’s like jaws on ice.
The Grey is in many respects standard action film fare, but it stands out from the pack for a number of reasons. While sometimes hamstrung by cliché, the performances from the largely unknown cast are excellent. The roles are well carved out, and give shape and colour to a motley group of men reduced to a struggle to fulfill basic needs. It’s also spectacularly shot; Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi captures the harshness and serene beauty of the Alaskan wilds marvelously. Definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of men in this movie; in fact the only the only female exists in flashback. I mention this, because I like women. Nonetheless, this was bloody entertaining. Forget Twilight for your wolf fix, go see The Grey.
*Could we add Home Alone, Empire Strikes Back and Die Hard to this list? Any others?
Three and a half stars.
In Cinemas February 16 (through Icon Distribution)