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'The Grey' Movie Review

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


'The Grey' movie poster.
© Open Road
Unfortunately, when the first trailer for The Grey was released, the most lasting image was that of Liam Neeson with broken bottles strapped to his knuckles, seemingly preparing to punch a wolf in the face. The inherent camp value of that concept couldn't be further from the final product, a sobering, deeply emotional and dramatic survivor tale.

The Plot

John Ottway (Neeson) is a sharpshooter hired by a remotely situated Alaskan oil refinery to pick off wild animals -- wolves, bears and the like -- who roam too close to the refinery and pose a threat to the workers. Despondent over the end of his marriage, Ottway is the glum odd man out on a plane flying a bunch of roughnecks back to civilization for a two-week break from the drudgery of breaking down crude oil.

The plane hits a storm in mid-flight, however, causing it to go down in the middle of nowhere. Only eight men survive the crash, and though they barely know one another, they're forced to band together to survive blisteringly cold and snowy conditions. But soon they realize there's a more vicious enemy at hand: a pack of wolves looking not just to eat, but also to defend their territory against the human interlopers.

The End Result

Liam Neeson in 'The Grey'.

Liam Neeson in 'The Grey'.

Photo: Kimberley French © Open Road
Belying its pulpy animals-gone-wild concept, The Grey resonates with the sort of genuine humanity and emotional punch you'd expect from an award-worthy drama. Though it boasts the body count of a slasher movie, it treats its victims with reverence -- embodied by a poignant scene of the survivors collecting the dead's wallets -- rather than as slabs of meat, all the while ruminating on love, life and loss. Toss in themes of man versus nature, religious belief and mortality, and you've got one abnormally high-minded, hard-hitting genre flick.

The thrill factor shouldn't be discounted, however. Director Joe Carnahan imbues the action scenes with such a visceral energy, such urgency, you're thrust headlong into the midst of a airplane crash, a blizzard, a raging river and an animal attack. The camerawork is violent and inventive, and the sound is jarring and eerie, heightening the mythic nature of the wolves, which serve a similar role to the lions in the 1996 Michael Douglass-Val Kilmer film The Ghost and the Darkness: a semi-mystical punishment for humans intruding on their natural surroundings (an intriguing role reversal of Ottway's job).

Neeson leads a strong cast with stoic dignity tempered by unexpected vulnerability. It's the polar opposite of his previous collaboration with Carnahan, the cartoonish A-Team adaptation. Following that and the equally over-the-top Smokin' Aces, The Grey is a welcome return to the gritty realism (well, as realistic as a killer pack of rogue wolves can be) of his 2002 breakout film Narc. Even the wolf effects eschew obvious CGI in favor of a believable blend of real animals, computer effects and animatronics. It's just one more way The Grey doesn't go the easy Hollywood genre route -- i.e., no wolf punching.

The Skinny

  • Acting: B+ (Top-notch dramatic work all around.)
  • Direction: A (Gritty, visceral, unnerving, yet touching.)
  • Script: B (Dramatic, emotional and uncompromising.)
  • Gore/Effects: B- (Solid gore, realistic animal effects.)
  • Overall: B+ (Deeper and more introspective, emotional and dramatic than it has any right being -- though not at the cost of adrenaline-packed action sequences.)

The Grey is directed by Joe Carnahan and is rated R by the MPAA for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language. Release date: January 27, 2012.

Disclosure: The distributor provided free access to this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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