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7.25 out of 10
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire movie
8.75 out of 10
Disney's Frozen movie
10.0 out of 10
Delivery Man movie
6.75 out of 10
8.25 out of 10

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Grey

Survival at a Cost

Rated: R  Violence and disturbing content including bloody images, and pervasive language
Release Date: January 27, 2012
Runtime: 1 hr 57 min

Director: Joe Carnahan
Writers: Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (from the short story "Ghost Walker")
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, James Badge Dale, Joe Anderson, Dallas Roberts

SYNOPSIS: In Alaska, when an oil drilling team's plane crashes in the frozen wilderness, the team's head of security must lead the team to survive the elements and a pack of wolves who see them as intruders.

REVIEW: Writer/director Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smoking Aces) reunites with his big screen A-Team lead Liam Neeson for a frosty wilderness adventure pitting a crashed oil team crew against the elements and hungry wolves. Based on the short story "Ghost Walker" from Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, who adds his efforts to the screenplay for the film, The Grey is a mix of action and drama set against the backdrop of an unforgiving wilderness.

John Ottway (Liam Neeson, The A-Team) has escaped to the Alaskan wilderness to serve as a wolf sniper for the crews of an oil company as they make repairs to the pipeline and work on the rigs. By day the men work on the rigs and pipeline, and by night they drink too heavily and fight too much. When several of the men are given furlough away from the rigs, Ottway catches a plane ride with them. In the middle of the flight, the plane crashes in the barren landscape of the snowy north. One of seven survivors from the flaming wreckage, Ottway bands them together to find fuel for warmth and food for sustenance. When a pack of wolves attack the camp around the wreckage, Ottway decides that making their way to the far-off tree line is their best chance at survival. With no better solutions at hand, the rest of the survivors including John Diaz (Frank Grillo, Warrior), Todd (Joe Anderson, The Crazies), Pete Hendricks (Dallas Roberts, 3:10 To Yuma), and three others scavenge the crash site then begin the trek across the snow to possible safety. All along, the pack of wolves follow the group and start picking off the survivors one by one.

Joe Carnahan, no stranger to action films with The A-Team and Smokin' Aces, takes a different tact with this tale of survival. Parts Viggo Mortensen's The Road, Anthony Hopkin's The Edge and Ethan Hawke's Alive, The Grey pushes together the simple act of survival with outside forces that makes that survival anything but simple. Can the dwindling group of men work together long enough to overcome the furry and fanged threats, or will they destroy themselves from within via infighting and desperation?

Vancouver is lovely this time of year, doubling as the Alaskan snow scape that the oil men must traverse. Carnahan uses the blustering snow dunes as a virtual no-man's land, stark and barren. 
Where the barren landscape offers little cover it allows for the group to see the wolves advancing from a long way off. Ottway believes the craggy and wooded forest will serve as a defensible position and heads in that direction with or without the rest of the group. The forest really offers little protection against the pack of wolves that continually stalk the group, truncating the group's sight lines and allowing for the wolves to blind side both the survivors and the audience.

Aside from the oil rig survivors and the vast unforgiving wilderness, the other character of The Grey is the wolf pack. When used sparingly and kept in rumbling shadows, the wolves maintain a ghostly menace that heightens the story's tension. Like a good ghost story, fear is most free-wheeling when the idea of danger and death is allowed to fester in the mind instead of in the eyes. When the entire wolf pack stares down the survivors, their green and amber eyes float in the darkness like specters. When they howl in unison in the darkness and only their breath is visible in the moon's reflection, dread truly sets in. But when we see the pack or a single wolf full out in certain scenes, the CGI does show through and distracts from the suspense.

Liam Neeson adds his strong even narrative voice to the film, letting us know that we are dealing with the dregs of society at the ends of the world. Something had driven these men to an existence in such a harsh environment. Eventually we learn more about what drives these brawlers, drinkers, and smart asses and get under their skins to care more about them.

The Grey shows that we are all instinctual at our core when faced with impossible odds. Logic, faith, religion, or sheer determination sometimes give way to more base animal behavior in times of desperation. Alphas emerge to lead. Betas fight to be the top dog. And survival usually goes to the fittest.

NOTE: Stay until the end of the credits for a final Easter Egg.

WORTH: Matinee or Rental

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