We’re about two months into 2012 but let’s chalk this up to surprise of the year. Director Joe Carnahan, coming off a terrible A-Team adaptation and before that, a disappointing Smokin’ Aces has stunned me with The Grey starring Liam Neeson. I was already deeply invested in the coolness that is Liam Neeson as of late. After all, he’s Qui-gon Jinn, Ra’s Al Ghul, Zeus, Admiral Shane, Bryan-the-kickass-dude-from-Taken and turns out he also has a sense of humor. The roles he has selected have been from a perspective of power, leadership and knowledge and he has continued this trend as John-the-kickass-dude-from-the-Grey.
John is a wolf hunter; He is hired by an Alaskan oil company to rid the area of wolves that feel threatened by the human presence. It’s noted early that John is depressed and attempts suicide by pointing the rifle in his mouth. He hears the cry of a wolf in the distance which stops him. John then boards a plane to presumably return home with the rest of the oil team but the plane crashes in a snowstorm. John awakes in the snow (in a very Lost-like sequence) with a few survive crew members. It’s not long before John is giving orders, telling the survivors to search for fire wood and keep watch from threatening wolves and trying to figure out a way to survive the cold and the wolves
The tension is felt immediately from the start of the movie even during the predictable plane crash. The violence is brutal enough without trending too close to a horror sub-genre, which would not have been necessarily a bad thing, but it works better as a psychological thriller. An example of this would be a scene where the survivors are huddled around a fire in the in the middle of the night. Cries from wolves lead the survivors to believe they are surrounded- there is an act of defiance from the survivors before the Alpha Male of the wolf pack lets out a bellowing ominous howl. From the perspective of the survivors, they see darkness… and at the top of the hill, they see only the breath from the Alpha Male with what little light is emitted from the fire. Well done Carnahan.A lot of the terror is implied like in the example above, and not show on screen and I give credit to Carnahan for being able to portray this dramatically. The Grey feels like a different director from his prior work. The movie projects urgency to fight off the wolves as well as battling the elements of an Alaskan winter. There are also several other internal fights the survivors must face to escape their nightmare. The Grey is an exhilarating satisfying experience, not to be missed if you’re a Nesson fan; Be sure to stay after the credits for one final scene.