In another time, on another planet, in a parallel universe, ‘The Grey’ may very well have been directed by John Cassavettes. Indeed, this is a film occupied by men. Manly men. With guns. Who spout tough-guy lines and all sound like they drink concrete and gravel. There’s barely the slightest whiff of oestrogen in the cast, and even then it’s in silent flash-backs.
This tale of a group of oil drillers who, after their plane crashes in the whitest regions of the Arctic, band together to fight the wolf pack that’s hunting them.
Of course, the usual survivalist cliches eventuate; in-group quarrelling, no food, fighting the elements and warmth all end up being a problem.
With a glib outline as the one above, it’d be easy to write ‘The Grey’ off as another wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am action film from the director of ‘Smokin’ Aces’ and ‘The A-Team’, but that would be doing the film a disservice, for The Grey is actually a finely tuned exploration of loss and grief and what it takes to be a man with a whopping emotional wollop. Just like John Cassavettes would have done.
Liam Neeson plays loner John Ottman, a man consumed and haunted by his past. Suicidal and enigmatic, he occupies The Tundra with other lost souls, acting as a spotter for the drillers and making sure the local wolves don’t get too close for comfort with the help of his trust bolt-action rifle.
One jaw-dropping plane crash later (this, surely, is one of cinemas greatest crash sequences) and the survivors find themselves fighting for their lives after they stumble into the wolves ‘kill zone’.
What follows is a white-knuckle trip through the coldest regions of hell as the survivors are picked off one by one (in a genuinely unpredictable order) by mother nature, God’s green earth or the savage wolf-pack on their tails. And all the while, with Liam Neeson grabbing hold of Ottman with both hands and acting the shit outta’ the part.
By the end you’ll have shed some tears and if you haven’t, they’ll have been close. And in today’s multiplexes, there’s very little else you could hope for.
Ultimately, this is less the Carnahan we’ve come to expect from ‘Smokin’ Aces’, and more like the Joe we know from ‘Narc’.
The former has had his fun. Let’s keep the latter around for a little longer.