Movie Review: “The Grey”

Written by Josh Litman February 01, 2012

“Live or die on this day.”

The Grey, directed by Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team), is an impressive film. It’s well cast, with a bleak, haunting, yet beautiful atmosphere, and stunning handheld cinematography. It fumbles here and there, especially when it tries to be overly existential. And at times the film might better be titled “The cliché” (so punny, I know). But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have me on the edge of my seat for most of its run-time.

Anchored by the ceaselessly-captivating Liam Neeson, The Grey makes for one hell of a “manly” movie. It’s gritty, it’s dark, and it’s wild. It’s man vs. beast. And despite humorous dialogue from some of the characters in the cast, the film takes itself very, very seriously overall.

After one of the most seat-gripping plane crashes I’ve ever seen, John Ottway (Neeson) finds himself leading a rag-tag crew of surviving oil-rig workers through the icy wilderness. And if the harsh environmental conditions weren’t enough, the team has to contend with a pack of blood-thirsty wolves hot on their tails.

What’s interesting is that Ottway is suicidal at the start of the film (of course it involves a woman), making his campaign to survive that much more stirring. He takes charge due to his security experience, formerly sniping down wolves who encroached on the oil rig. He’s a badass, but he’s an emotionally and psychologically wounded badass. He’s the kind of badass that makes sure a dying man knows he’s dying so he can accept his fate; and he’s the kind of badass that will punch a wolf in the face.

The characters at times lean toward cliché (e.g., the “funny guy,” the “religious guy,” the “jerk-who-makes-life-harder-for-everyone guy,” etc.), but thanks to strong acting and steady character development, their humanity does ultimately shine through. Neeson still towers above them all, however, giving a powerhouse performance that pretty much carries the film.

The pace is slow, but in the best of ways. The Grey is survival-horror at its core, with equal emphasis placed on both. There’s also an emphasis placed on philosophies regarding life, death, faith, and survival — an aspect of the film that takes increasingly more prominence as the film progresses. And it’s one of my overarching gripes with the picture.

If the existentialist issues remained a side matter, I’d have nothing to complain about, really. A little philosophical questioning here and there can boost the IQ of a film, but The Grey is ultimately enveloped and suffocated by these questions. Yes, it’s poetic, but it causes the film to get lost in itself to the point where what’s happening in reality begins to feel secondary. Still, I’d be willing to let this matter slide if not for the fact it leads to one of the most frustrating and infuriating endings I’ve seen in awhile.

Without spoiling much, I’ll say this film gave me an extreme case of blue balls. It betrays not only viewers’ expectations, but their hopes, too. It’s a bad sign when everyone in the theatre goes “awwwww!” as the credits roll (and not in the cutesy way, either). There is an awesomely suspenseful buildup that feels like the precursor to the best thing you’re ever going to see, and then…that’s it. THE END.*

My Rating: 8/10

*Stay after the credits. It may slightly alleviate your frustration.

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About Josh Litman

Josh Litman

Director/producer/writer/actor/editor/cinematographer/musician/neuroscientist… Josh prides himself on being simultaneously awesome and modest. In addition to We Eat Films, Josh also produces his own work (films, writing) under the banner of Action Potential Productions and has his own website, too, where his handiwork can be viewed: www.actionpp.com -- or www.joshlitman.com (if you prefer).

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