Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Grey (2012)

Usually when we come to a close on the month of January for movies, there isn't a whole lot that's really worth reflecting upon where we end up saying "oh yeah, that film was really good!" Surprisingly however, Steven Soderbergh managed to make me say that after seeing his stylish action flick "Haywire," and now writer-director Joe Carnahan has made me do the exact same thing with his latest production titled "The Grey," a film about the survival of men in the midst of harsh mother nature and unrelenting, intimidating forces of the wilderness.

Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a sharpshooter for an Alaskan oil drilling rig, where the main function of his occupation is to protect the workers from the wolves that come within the vicinities of the area. Despite his commitment to his profession, he's a very depressed and heartbroken man that has nothing going for him except the memories he has of his wife back home. Soon it's time where he and the rest of the men to go back home to be with their families, but a violent plane crash occurs mid-flight and kills well over half of the passengers on-board. Ottway soon finds himself as the leader of seven survivors. He leads the remaining men on a trek across the Alaskan landscape battling not just the harsh winter weather, but also packs of vicious wolves that attack unexpectedly, which progressively cripples the strength in those who remain in the group.
Ever since the monumental success of starring in "Taken," Liam Neeson has pretty much played the same role since then as the middle-aged badass. However the presentation of his character in the previews for this film are extremely misleading, because his performance is really one that is full of heartbreak, despair and de facto leader authority. Neeson is extremely convincing in his role alongside the talented supporting cast, but he is quite emotionally powerful when it's just him in the focus of a scene. The supporting cast is also quite stellar, comprised of well-known names including Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Joe Anderson, and James Badge Dale, all who hold their own to great effect alongside Neeson. Each actor actually gets their chance to shine their own light in a scene, because each character is surprisingly well developed in regards to certain aspects explained in their personality.

This is the 5th feature film directed by writer-director Joe Carnahan, and this is without a doubt his finest directorial effort since 2002's "Narc." Carnahan's a very underrated filmmaker in my book, and that's mostly due to the two brands of filmmaking in his range. The first type is the very gritty and raw thrillers he's made (Narc and The Grey), and the other being over-the-top action movies mixed with elements of comedy throughout (Smokin' Aces and The A-Team). Personally, I enjoy the first category more than the second one (which I still quite admire though), but "The Grey" was a perfect return to his original style that made a name for him ten years ago. His handheld style is sprinkled throughout the film, which enhances the realism of the harsh situations throughout the film, but his filming becomes more progressive in terms of static camera angles further into the movie, especially in regard to the stunning scenery shots of the Alaskan wilderness. In addition, Carnahan and co-writer Ian McKenzie Jeffers give all of their main characters surprisingly well-written dialogue that actually develops each one of them in a personal matter one-by-one throughout the running time.
However a lot of credit is also due to the masterful special makeup effects artist duo of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. Not only do they do a great job at making the characters look very cold, fatigued and battered from the harsh winter nature, but the variety in the way they used the wolves is also quite visionary. The production crew used real wolves whenever they could, but the Nicotero/Berger duo also used very well designed puppet wolves that looked as real as one could picture them in the setting. The use of CGI wolves is very limited, but that helps enhance the realistic themes of dread and paranoia that Carnahan already explores in great fashion.

Overall, "The Grey" is without a doubt the best movie I have seen so far in 2012, and it was a great way to cap off so-so month of January movies. It was great to see Liam Neeson play a character that wasn't a a complete badass, and instead have a lot of depth and committed leadership, but also a terrific showcase for Joe Carnahan to return to the style of filmmaking that put him on the map ten years ago. Probably the best "man vs. wild" survival film I have seen since Danny Boyle's "127 Hours," "The Grey" is a film that should not be missed, but be very aware that this is not another film where Liam Neeson kicks ass, it's one that is a lot more than just that.

Final Grade: B+

Review of "The Grey" on Youtube


  1. I would really like to see this, and I'm glad that there was some good movies in January this year because last January was awful in terms of films. Brilliant review as always!

  2. Well it is January, so I cannot expect too much, but it is good to hear the positive thoughts on this film. Looking forward to seeing it.

    Good review!

  3. ooh, it sounds very good. Glad to hear it's more than the wolfpuncher film that was expected. Great review