Film Review: The Grey (2012)

Director: Joe Carnahan

Cast: Liam Neeson (Ottway), Dermot Mulroney (Talget), Frank Grillo (Diaz) & Dallas Roberts (Hendrick).

After delivering powerful, critically-acclaimed performances during the 1990s, Liam Neeson has been truly prolific in recent years as a bad-ass action leading man that has brought him box-office hits such as last year’s “Unknown” or the intense “Taken” a year prior. This time around, Mr. Neeson continues his unlikely rise as one of the preeminent action stars in Hollywood with “The Grey”, a beautifully shot survival film by director Joe Carnahan.

The success of the movie owes much to the craft of Mr. Neeson, who even in lesser roles manages to find depth where there is hardly any, moving the film forward with a fierce physical presence and an emotional gravitas fitting a man that has lived through a lot. The camera continuously relies on its star and on those around him, often closing in on the very capable actors that benefited greatly from each other, making the survival tale feel genuine. Unlike most action-packed films, The Grey makes us cares about his characters and whether they make it or not. They are not one-dimensional stuntmen, but people with pasts, with more faults than qualities, but who are not altogether bad. All of them, with no exception, display a very strong desire to live that is palpable and deserving of a second shot. One by one the circumstances seem to get the better of them, but still they manage to continue, trying to find solace in each other, relying on the steady direction of Ottway (Liam Neeson), their wise and courageous leader.

The film is also a beautiful visual experience. The continuous snowfall, the thick blanket of snow on the ground and the seemingly limitless expanse of white occasionally interrupted by frozen forests and small rivers define what is an engrossing environment. From beginning to end, The Grey is an atmospheric experience that does not let up for one second, always defining the circumstances and the faith of all of our characters. In the Alaska of the film there are large wolves who, feeling threatened by humans, seek to protect their turf as they best know how. More often than not, the unrelenting snow blurs and disguises the predators. The film shows their profile, their menacing eyes and even their breath as they corner the survivors, rarely opting for a full, uninterrupted shot of the CGI-produced wolves, which certainly adds to the suspense.

Their struggle, however realistic it seems, does become a bit repetitive as the wolves constantly pursue the pack of survivors with a ferocity that is probably exaggerated for cinematic purpose. Whenever there seems to be a small distraction or an unexpected accident, the wolves come running to kill yet another prey as if they are always a few feet away, no matter how fast and far our characters seem to travel. Equally repetitive are Ottway’s flashbacks which are used to establish his emotional baggage. The image of his wife laying by him telling him “not to be afraid” appears close to ten times, turning into more of an annoyance as the film progresses.

The Grey is, despite a few small hiccups, the most involving and genuine thriller of Liam Neeson’s recent acting resume and a very strong start to my 2012 film reviews.

Rating: 3.5/5 (good)

Upcoming Reviews: Winnie the Pooh, Take Shelter & The American

– Niels

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