3 February 2012
THE GREY- Review
But this time around, Neeson plays Ottway, a character whose backstory has uncomfortable echoes of the actor's own personal life, who isolates himself from humanity by serving as security for a bunch of reprobates and ex-cons at an Alaskan oil-drilling station. While returning to civilisation, there's a horrific plane crash that kills all of them except for Ottway and six other survivors. If the cold and unforgiving climate doesn't kill them, the ravenous wolves, in whose territory they are stranded, definitely will.
Honestly, I haven't been as bowled over by a film as when I saw The Grey, since I first saw The Dark Knight. While the trailers and marketing gave me the impression of something slightly exaggerated and ridiculous, the film itself is astonishingly pessimistic and thoughtful, while still ladling out the requisite amount of action scenes, which unfortunately became the whole story of those trailers. The film is extremely intense throughout, not only during the action scenes, but especially in the interactions between the surviving men, forced to work together against a hopeless situation.
This dysfunctional ensemble is very well cast, with particularly good performances from Frank Grillo, in what initially seems like the allocated asshole role, and of course, Neeson himself. I alluded to Natasha Richardson in my summary of the story, only because the comparisons in Ottway's mourning of his absent wife are undeniably there. I think it is both speculative and slighly tactless to presume, as some have, that Neeson is only so much better here because this is some kind of therapy for him. I think the unexpectedly intellectual tone of the film is what has invited such analysis, where, say, Wrath of the Titans will not, but regardless of his private life, Neeson's performance is extraordinary, and his best in a long, long time.
But it is so much more about the men, than about the wolves, and that's where any criticism of the computer-generated wolves falls down flat. Admittedly, the wolves don't look great, but the way that they are used makes me suspect that director Joe Carnahan knew that. Just as Spielberg sparingly used Bruce the shark before him, Carnahan privileges the suspense and the thrill of their off-screen presence over the visceral thrills of wolves constantly being on screen. The wolves' behaviour in the film is exaggerated in a way that pits them against the men's attitudes to death, rather than making them into monsters. From a human point of view, they're ruthless, certainly, but neither are they cartoonish animal terrorists.
It's less true of this film than it was of War Horse, that the animal involvement is incidental. With the wolves used so sparingly as to preserve their effectiveness, they're absent for some stretches of the film, but when you recognise that the film is about the response of these men, when taken even further from civilisation than they were before all of the trouble began, the philosophical elements are entirely consistent. I only talk about how thoughtful it is, because it is thoughtful, but it's also just as pulse-pounding and unpredictable as horror fans could want. It's certainly much scarier than many horror films in recent years, giving weight to the way in which death finds its characters by firmly establishing how each of them react in the face of death.
The Grey is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Grey, why not share your comments below? It's easily better than any of this year's Best Picture nominees at the Oscars, so if you haven't seen it, do so! Now!
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.