Many audiences have been expecting The Grey to be ‘Taken’ on ice – seeing Liam Neeson, tired of taking on kidnappers, going off to the wild to punch some wolves and fight nature itself. From the trailer alone, in which we see Neeson strapping broken glass to his hands before charging at a snarling, angry looking wolf, who can blame them for such expectations?
The Grey is a very different film from this indeed. The film starts in an oil-drilling station somewhere out in one of the more barren parts of Alaska. This particular station is populated by ‘outlaws, drifters… and assholes’. Neeson plays Ottway, a man whose job it is to make sure the wolves stay off the site, and to kill those who break in. From the outset it is clear that he is good at what he does, but takes little pleasure from it.
Later, on plane headed out from the station, there are technical difficulties due to weather sometime into the flight, which rapidly descends into one of the most effective plane-crash sequences done in a movie to date. This may be thanks, in no small part, to the handheld camera style of how it was shot. Unlike the endless tired blear-witch style seasick shaky cam that Hollywood seems so fond of lately, The Grey contains some very effective uses of the style, and really gives the feeling that we’re experiencing these horrors alongside the men.
In the fallout from the plane crash, it is clear that only Ottway understands the dangers of the situation that he and the few survivors are in, and what follows is a struggle to survive in the harshest extent of nature for as long as they can.
From this point onwards, The Grey becomes a confused mix between a depressing, philosophical meditation on man’s position in nature, and a by-the-numbers horror-thriller. On the one hand there are some beautifully considered shots of the tiny black figures of the men, struggling through the beautiful, but deadly Alaskan wilderness; all of them being unforgivingly beaten by the wind and snow. But then there will come some distracting conceit in order to make the film fit in with certain conventions of a thriller.
These distractions usually came from the wolves that, at times, made the whole thing feel more like a monster movie than anything else (particularly the Alpha of the pack, who absurdly seemed to be the size of about three wolves stood on top of one another). Occasionally this was well handled, and CGI was used rather sparingly. The first time the wolves approach at night, for example, most of them were simply the glowing dots of their eyes reflecting the light. Most of the time when the wolves feature in the film, they simply appear out of nowhere, which shatters the carefully constructed realism which, was built up earlier in the film.
This could have been a great film had it not constantly felt the need to revert back to standard thriller tricks. It is worth seeing for a fantastic performance from Neeson, and some very effective standout sequences, but a confusion over what kind of film it is makes The Grey at times a puzzling watch.
Platform rating: 6/10