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THE GREY review

Posted on November 6th, 2012
Posted on November 6th, 2012

Article by Coop Cooper

Isolated survival stories are hard to write and even more difficult to film. They usually take place under harsh conditions, pushing the limits of the filmmakers, the actors and the narrative structure. They also deal with subject matter than can be stark, defeatist and downright depressing. While “The Grey” contains all of these elements, I’m pleased to say it is one of the few that gets it right.

A plane full of roughnecks drilling for oil in the Alaskan tundra flies back towards civilization after finishing a lengthy and grueling shift. Severe turbulence downs the plane in the deep wilderness with only a handful of survivors remaining. The survivors travel on foot in a desperate attempt to find a means of rescue, but are hunted and picked off one at a time by a ravenous pack of wolves. A sad, mysterious man in their group (Liam Neeson) has the skills and the leadership to help them survive the ordeal, but since they are out of their element, the wolves have the upper hand.

Neeson is fantastic as usual. Haunted by his memories and clinging to the hope that he might one day reunite with his wife, he finds the will to fight. The cast of supporting characters are mostly nameless, but they manage to add tangible moments of humanity to the story. There are numerous moments of strife and bonding between them; however, this story completely belongs to Neeson and the wolves.

Speaking of the wolves, they are absolutely terrifying. Even when Neeson explains exactly how the wolves behave and operate, you can’t help but dread their unseen presence and the ease in which they stalk and kill. Their inclusion in the story nearly converts the genre into a horror film. What is fascinating is how the behavior of the humans mirror the behavior of the animals. It may very well be an allegory for how we are all animals in the face of survival (in fact, one character actually mentions that). Some viewers might prefer not to read that deeply into it as it excels just fine as a straightforward thriller, but by the end it becomes a study of humanity and how we handle death as equally as how we deal with life.

One annoying thing about this genre of film is the inevitable jerk who flat out refuses to listen to reason and tries to lead the survivors onto a disastrous path simply because he’s used to being the alpha male and is willing to bet his life on his hubris. Honestly, you can’t have this genre of movie without this type of character. If you look at “Flight of the Phoenix,” “The Great Escape” and all other survival epics, there’s always one character who nearly screws it all up for everyone until he finally sees the light or is foolishly eliminated. He’s the character every single audience member would love to punch, but without him, there wouldn’t be enough conflict within the story. And who wouldn’t listen to Liam Neeson, who is always authoritative and obviously knows what he is doing far more than the others? Necessary to the story or not, this type of character has always bugged me.

While it sounds like a paint-by-the-numbers, Jack London-type story, “The Grey” manages to be suspenseful and compelling from beginning to end. Some might expect an action/adventure story out of it, but that is far from the intention of theme. Others might not appreciate the thought-provoking ending, but I recommend giving it a shot, especially for the harrowing and moving scenes in the second half. Neeson might even have a shot at an Oscar nomination for this one.

The Grey” is now available on DVD.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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