Review for: The Grey (2012)
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Written by: Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
3 out of 4 Stars.
The Grey is a survival-action movie focusing on the story of a group of plane crash survivors in the middle of an Alaskan wasteland. The men are all oil drill workers – rough neck manly men that live on booze and manual labor – with the seeming exception of Ottway (Liam Neeson) who is a sniper hired to protect the drill workers from attacks by the local wildlife. Shortly after their initial efforts to survive the plane crash, they come into contact with a group of timber wolves who attempt to thin the men out one by one. The men soon realize they’ll have to keep moving to survive, meanwhile the ever present threat of wolf attack surrounds them and clouds their hopes of surviving the menacing land.
Meanwhile, counter-point to all the surface level plot development, Ottway has dreams of being with his wife. These dreams present an emotional story to The Gray that adds more depth to its character than other aspects of the movie. They are the reprieve in a cold and snowy rollercoaster.
The Gray is one of those movies that you don’t really see all that often. It’s what I like to call a movie with a conscience. By this I mean that the movie doesn’t seem to neglect the fact that its characters are actual characters with other motives and emotions that clash with the story. While these men want to survive the wilderness and beat the wolves, they want to do it because they want to get back home to their families. When the movie slows down for these moments, you get a feel for the character’s individual stories. Each character has traits that make him recognizable.
The characters themselves are somewhat lacking. Each character has their particular trait and they don’t really fade from it. The religious guy stays religious. The ex-con stays the ex-con. The survival expert stays the survival expert. The characters aren’t the most fleshed out, but the movie isn’t lacking any of the cast that you’d expect to see.
That being said, this movie has an extremely annoying motivation to slowly kill off these characters methodically. It feels as if you could run a stop watch and know whenever someone else is about to die. They also happen to put quite a bit of the wolf attacks in the middle of dramatic character scenes, somewhat robbing the emotion of the moment just so they can remind the audience that there are wolves in this movie.
The actors do a fine job representing their characters for what they are. You can’t take away from anyone here, though Liam Neeson’s Ottway being the main character is the show stealer, all the other men maintain a presence even when it does feel like there are too many of them immediately after the crash.
In fact, I would say that the main detractors for this movie are rather prevalent even in the trailer. The trailer starts by showing emotional moments and the crash and the set-up and all, but then it gets distracted by action in the second-half. That is pretty much the story of this movie. While there is a great emotional depth that is played at and used to pull on the audience heart strings, we don’t ever get to feel it as much as we should because the movie is too busy trying to remind us that Alaskan wolves are bad asses. We don’t get the time or space we need to breathe in the emotions, to truly connect to the characters.
Finally, during the last scene we are presented with two twists that change the plot (sort-of) and one of these I feel was completely obvious. Maybe I’m just really damn good at guessing plots. But this is actually one of the best scenes in the movie. In fact, despite knowing this twist and having accepted it as a general part of the story, I was rather emotionally affected because of it. I didn’t blubber into man tears, but I did go into “blink your eyes really fast so you don’t break down into man tears” mode.
For a final say, The Grey is a movie that wants to be deep and emotional, and for two scenes it manages to capture this perfectly, perhaps among some of the best emotional scenes in movies. However, it’s emphasis on the wolf-attack plot line, and a lack of creativity on pushing the characters forward without this plot line, make it so that whatever connections I feel on the edges of the movie, I feel like I’m being steered by the nose elsewhere in the movie.
The Grey is a story of what a film could’ve been if it hadn’t had to be an action movie. Final score: 3 Stars out of 4