Oscar-winner Liam Neeson adds a certain level of classiness to every film he's in. Even when he's in something as silly and stupid as The A-Team or Clash of the Titans, he raises the quality up a little more. That's why it's so hard to judge a movie that he's in that appears to be a shallow, tawdry, cliche action film. Taken is a perfect example; if anyone else would have starred in that, it would have been another forgettable action film but he brought something special to it and made you walk away thinking you saw something more. The Grey is no different.
Director Joe Carnahan is someone I want to do well in Hollywood. Mostly because he's a local guy that was born and raised in Sacramento. But the other reason is because I see a talented filmmaker under his films that always seem to hover around more than Hollywood drivel. His former films are The A-Team and Smokin' Aces; both are good in their own unique ways. The Grey is a total departure from his previous work in tone and structure.
The film follows a group of oil drill workers in Alaska flying home after a season of work. Their plane goes down in the snowy wilderness and the survivors fight to reach safety as they're hunted by a pack of wolves. That's the whole plot and its simplicity is one of the best things about it. If you're expecting this to be about regular guys and how they all realize they're tougher than what they are and become action heroes, this isn't the movie for you. This is about pure survival and it's scary. However, it does become monotonous as well. Not everyone makes it and the systematic feasting of the wolves eventually becomes predictable and repetitive.
The film was shot near a small town called Smithers in Canada, making it the most exciting thing that has ever and will ever happen there. I mention this because the fact that it was filmed on location in the actual cold, in the actual snow with actual wolves is impressive and totally appreciated. The isolation permiates every frame of the film and you actually feel cold while watching it. I loved that aspect about The Grey! Nothing about it feels like the old Hollywood standard action film and every actor in it gets my respect for spending a month or two in that mess. The desperation you hear them scream some of their lines out wasn't acting, I'm sure.
The Grey is not without its problems. It suffers from slowing down and making you start looking at your watch or wait for another wolf attack. However it's a much more effective and deeper film than you're expecting. It builds slowly and towards a climax that exists only in your head (this will makes sense when you see the ending of the film, which is the best and most emotional part). Some will fully hate the fact that Carnahan did that, but as a fan of filmmaking and those that take risks with it, I loved it. It makes me look forward to what our local boy has planned next and if I didn't know that Liam Neeson had Battleship the Movie on his plate next, I'd look be optimistic for him too.
The Grey (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B