The Grey (2012)

Director: Joe Carnahan

Cast: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney

The Grey reunites the team of Liam Neeson, Joe Carnahan, and Tony and Ridley Scott who worked previously together on the recent A-Team movie.  It was no surprise to learn, then, that Bradley Cooper, was originally cast in the role of oil drilling security guard John Ottway (played in the movie by Liam Neeson).  John Ottway is a man coping with the recent death of his wife.  His job sees him working in one of the world’s remotest oil drilling factories with some of the most violent and unpredictable ex-cons.  As a trained sharpshooter, his main job is to protect the men from wild animals such as polar bears, and wolves etc, while the men work.  The current rotation ends and the men board a plane to take them back to civilisation.  They never make it, however, as the plane malfunctions and crash lands in the wild Alaskan tundra.  Neeson’s character survives and using his knowledge of the environment, must find a way to bring the other survivors together as a team to make it out alive.  One thing they didn’t count on though, was a pack of grey wolves relentlessly hunting them through the sub-zero wilderness.

One of the many things that stands out about the film is the script which has been adapted from the short story The Ghost Walker, by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, who plans to expand the story into a novel to be released later in the year.  It actually caused some minor controversy among Christian groups through its questioning of god and faith. At first glance you might mistake this movie for a straight out ‘man versus wild animal’ movie and it definitely has that element to it but apart from that, The Grey doesn’t stick to any kind of formula you would associate with a film in his category.  When the action does kick into gear, it comes in tense, brutal and terrifying bursts as the wolves pick off each character one by one, but unlike many action movies today there is much more character development between the action set pieces.  We delve deeper into the internal struggles of each man, as they in turn come face to face with their own mortality and question their very existence as nature closes in on them.

The wolves themselves are excellent.  Apparently they were mainly animatronic in close up and it has been brilliantly done, with very little help from CGI.  They are ever present, even when not on screen and they provide a strong sense of claustrophobia and foreboding as the men realise that their efforts to outrun them are all but futile.  The movie was shot over forty days in British Columbia and judging from the weather conditions it was easy to see why they moved the shoot along at a fast pace.  Very little in the way of CGI was used to create the landscape of the movie, so what you see on screen for the most part, were actual weather conditions.  (Cameras and other equipment apparently failed multiple times during filming due to the extreme weather).  The cinematography is absolutely stunning.  Sitting in the movie theatre you can actually feel the wind chill bite into your bones.  

This is a relevant, visceral and unflinching look at mortality and survival in some of the worst conditions imaginable.  The ending is very abrupt and annoyingly ambiguous, but if you hang around long enough, there is a small scene after the credits.

And I’ll leave it at that…

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