CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE GREY (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: A vast snowy wasteland. L.L. SOARES is warming his hands by a crackling fire, while a wolf turns on a spit. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks disgusted)
MA: Do we really have to eat a wolf? It smells awful!
LS: Are you kidding? I’ve got a bottle of STUBB’S Real Texas barbecue sauce right here. It makes any meat taste great.
MA: How’s it on skunk? Anyway, what are you doing with a bottle of barbecue sauce in the middle of Alaska? Are we doing commercials now?
LS: Hell, I bring it everywhere! Makes meat taste better. You’re lucky I’m not eating YOU after that big plane crash.
MA: And that’s supposed to make me feel better? Just make sure you fill your gut with plenty of wolf meat so you satisfy that voracious appetite of yours.
LS: I dunno. This cold air is making me plenty hungry.
MA: That’s what I’m afraid of. We’ll just find you a nice supply of berries, nuts, and pine cones.
LS: I’m not eating that crap!
MA: Put some of that magical barbecue sauce on it, and it’ll taste just fine. You said it makes everything taste great.
LS: No, I said it makes any meat taste great!
MA: Anyway, how about we get off the subject of food, and you take a break from cooking and start our review of the new Liam Neeson movie, THE GREY?
THE GREY is a movie about a team of guys in Alaska who are working for an oil drilling corporation. Liam Neeson plays Ottway, a guy who was hired to shoot wolves if they get too close to the workers. He and a bunch of other guys take a plane to Anchorage for some R&R and it crashes.
MA: Yeah, that crash scene is pretty intense. I loved the way it was shot, entirely from the inside of the plane, so you’re feeling like you’re right there with the passengers, and we’re spared any potential fake-looking CGI planes crashing into the ice. It’s a riveting sequence that takes full advantage of people’s fear of plane crashes.
LS: Yes, it is rather intense, isn’t it? I thought the crash was very well done.
Anyway, after the crash, Ottway wakes up in the middle of nowhere, covered in snow. He goes over the next hill and sees the plane in pieces and only a few guys alive after the crash.
There are bodies everywhere, and Ottway, being an expert in the local animals, takes charge and instructs everyone in what to do to stay alive. Some of the people question his authority, until the wolves start hovering around.
The movie becomes a quest for survival, as Ottway and the rest of the survivors struggle to stay alive. Knowing that the chances of a search party finding them are slim, they decide to keep moving. This entails not only keeping an eye out for vicious wolves, but also struggling to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures, and trying to maneuver through knee-high snow (with blizzards on the way). It’s rough going, and even though these guys survived the plane crash, there is no guarantee they are going to live to see civilization again, especially with those wolves constantly on the edges of the darkness, waiting to pick them off, one by one.
I really like Liam Neeson, and he’s been on an action movie roll lately, with starring roles in films like this one, and TAKEN (2008) and UNKNOWN (2011). Neeson is starting to become a one-man industry all by himself, regularly turning out interesting action movies. Sort of like another entertaining actor, Nicolas Cage.
MA: I tend to enjoy Neeson a bit more than Cage, but I think you’re dead-on about Neeson becoming a one-man industry. People I talk to always cite Neeson as one of their favorite actors, and I know the theater I was in last night was packed. I’m guessing they were Liam Neeson fans. It’s not like this movie had a lot of hype or an amazing trailer. If anything, the trailer was rather boring.
LS: Yeah, I didn’t think much of the trailer for THE GREY and I was bummed out that we had to see this one. I went into that theater with zero expectations.
MA: Me, too. I was ready to call THE GREY, “The Blah.”
LS: I just expected another by-the-numbers action movie. But I was completely wrong. THE GREY was something completely different. And it captured my imagination.
MA: Ditto. I really didn’t think I was going to like this movie, but I ended up liking it a lot. And again, I have to agree with you about it capturing the imagination. That’s what made this movie work so well. It really was a step above your standard action movie, thanks largely in part to a well-written script by Joe Carnahan, who also directed, and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, based on a short story by Jeffers called “Ghost Walkers.”
LS: Carnahan is a pretty interesting director. He gave us some quirky action/crime flicks in the past, like NARC (2002) and SMOKIN’ ACES (2006). He also directed the recent movie version of THE A-TEAM (2010)— which also featured Neesom in the ensemble cast. Carnahan does a terrific job with THE GREY.
(FROSTY THE SNOWMAN approaches the guys)
FROSTY: Hey guys, I’m really c-c-cold out here. Mind if I come sit by your fire?
LS: Sure thing, Frosty, take a load off.
MA: Is that really a smart idea?
FROSTY: What do you mean? Are you trying to say you don’t want me to join you guys?
MA: No, no, not at all. It’s just that you’re made of snow and….
FROSTY (sits down next to fire): Ahhhhh! This is the life.
(FROSTY promptly falls asleep.)
MA: You know he’s not going to last the night.
LS: Are you kidding. He won’t last the hour! I just added a lot more kindling to the fire. Frosty isn’t the brightest bulb in the tulip patch.
(MA and LS laugh)
MA: Ultimately, THE GREY is about death and how we face it. As you would imagine, in a movie about a small group of plane crash survivors stranded in the brutally frozen Alaska wilderness, hunted by a pack of wolves that are upset because these survivors have landed too close to their den, there’s a lot of death scenes in this movie, and so there is ample opportunity to address how people deal with death.
It gets into faith in God vs. faith in the here and now, and a recurring theme is not being afraid of death. It’s about meeting death on your own terms, because you know what? It’s inevitable.
LS: It also washes over you like a warm wave, if Neeson’s character is to be believed. He tells a character this early on who is about to die.
MA: Yes, early on in the film, there’s a scene where one of the survivors is bleeding out, and Neeson’s Ottway tells him straight out, you’re going to die. Ottway then guides him, in the gentlest yet confident way, to his death, asking him who he loves and telling him to let that person take him to where he’s going. It’s a poignant scene, and sets the stage, thematically, for the rest of the movie.
LS: It is a poignant scene. And not what you’re expecting when you sit down to watch an action movie. I have to admit, that I really started to care about these characters, especially Ottway, as the movie continued.
Another thing about Neeson is, the movie opens with his character trudging through the snow at night, and a voiceover where he’s talking to us. Normally, I hate that kind of thing, but when Neeson does it, it’s strangely reassuring. Like “this is a Liam Neeson movie, and you’re in good hands now.”
Along with Neeson, there are some great performances by Frank Grillo (some people may remember him from TV shows like PRISON BREAK and he was the father on the short-lived, but pretty good, supernatural series THE GATES)—in THE GREY he plays a hard-ass ex-con named Diaz who is Ottway’s nemesis for a lot of the movie, and he steals several of the scenes—and Dallas Roberts (from shows like THE GOOD WIFE and the AMC series RUBICON) as Hendrick. The supporting cast is actually quite good here, but it’s clear from the start that Neeson is the main attraction.
MA: I liked those two guys a lot, too. I also enjoyed Dermot Mulroney as Talget. The scene where Talget, a man who is afraid of heights, has to cross a high cliff on a wire to reach the tall trees for safety, is another exercise in intensity, well-executed by both the actor and the director.
LS: That is a great scene. This movie is full of them. Scenes that could have been generic action sequences, but because of character idiosyncrasies or fears, they’ve been turned into something more personal.
MA: Joe Anderson is also memorable as Flannery, a guy who seems to have a negative comment about everything and quickly gets on his fellow survivor’s nerves. Anderson was even more memorable as Deputy Russell in THE CRAZIES (2010).
I liked that for the most part, these actors were unrecognizable. It added to the believability of this tale.
LS: Yeah, I really could not identify who they were until the end credits rolled. Aside from Neeson, nobody looks very familiar here.
MA: And speaking of believability, I agree with you that Neeson is the main attraction, mostly because he is so believable. After the crash, Neeson’s Ottway immediately takes charge, and like the audience, several of the survivors initially question why Ottway is qualified to lead them. Ottway professes his knowledge of wolves and survival, and Neeson makes us believe every word and action that comes from this guy.
LS: Yeah, at first some of the other guys are like, “Who the hell are you to tell us what to do?” But it’s gradually clear that he’s the only one who really knows what he’s doing, and Neeson does seem like a natural born leader.
MA: There’s a great scene where Diaz challenges Ottway, and Ottway decks him and knocks him on his ass, and he gets in his face and tells him straight out that he is not going to put up with his crap. It’s a commanding moment, and Neeson pulls it off without a shred of doubt.
LS: Yeah, not only is Ottway the smartest guy in the group, he can also kick ass when he needs to.
My one complaint about THE GREY is that the movie does move a little slow in spots. A few scenes seem to last a bit longer than they should. But, as it progressed and developed its own odd rhythm, it really won me over.
MA: Yep, there were some slow parts.
LS: Even the way it’s paced isn’t like a normal action movie.
I found the odyssey of these guys in their struggle for survival to be really compelling. I also found some of the more personal moments involving Neeson’s character to be especially moving, since they deal with the character’s loss of his wife, something that Neeson experienced himself not too long ago in real life (his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, died in 2009 after a skiing accident). The scenes where Neeson thinks back about his wife really have a strong kick to them. You believe that he is a man in pain. In fact, at the beginning of the movie, before the plane crash stuff even happens, Ottway contemplates suicide. And yet, when they’re struggling to stay alive in the aftermath of the crash, Ottway is also the one guy who most desperately clings to staying alive.
As the movie progressed, it drew me more and more into the story of these characters. And by the end, I really grew to like this movie a lot.
MA: Same here. Like you, I really enjoyed Ottway’s personal story, and I thought Neeson handled this terrifically. Although I liked Neeson in UNKNOWN a lot, I thought his performance here was better, deeper, and richer. He makes so many movies we tend to forget just how good an actor this guy can be.
As much as I liked the entire package of THE GREY, I found myself liking Neeson the most. But the whole film is great. Director Joe Carnahan creates several memorable scenes in this movie. The aforementioned crash scene is about as riveting a crash scene I’ve watched in a long time.
I loved the sequence where they have to cross over the cliff to the pine trees on a makeshift line. The scene where Hendrick falls into the river is another nail-biter. And then, pretty much any scene where the wolves were involved.
LS: The scenes with the wolves are well done, and suspenseful. You never know when they are going to strike. They almost take on a supernatural aspect as the film progresses, as if they’re everywhere.
And that scene with Hendrick in the icy river – man! That might just be the most intense scene in the whole movie.
MA: I liked the look of the wolves in this one. They looked much better than the CGI werewolves we’ve seen in the movies the past few years. Sure, one of the reasons they look so good is the scenes they’re in are so damn scary, but another reason is we hardly ever see them clearly. We see them at night, or in the snow, or in a mist, and this isn’t a cop-out, but an effective use of special effects to really make the wolves a credible threat in this movie.
LS: Yeah, you won’t soon forget those glowing eyes in the darkness. And you’re right. The wolves in this one are scarier and more threatening than anything in the TWILIGHT Saga, or the latest UNDERWORLD flick we just saw. This is the way scary wolves should be done!
MA: The wolf scenes are genuinely unnerving. I really believed the men’s lives were in danger from these animals, and I found myself looking behind these guys, expecting a wolf to come out at any moment. The wolf scenes in this film were that good.
(Behind MA & LS, run a pack of WOLVES followed by a SHEEP.)
SHEEP: Wait up guys! Are we there yet?
WOLF: It’s right around the corner.
SHEEP: I’m starving. What’s on the menu?
WOLF: You— I mean, you’ll see. (to LS): Hey mister, can we borrow your barbecue sauce?
LS: Are you kidding me? Have you seen what I’m roasting?
WOLF: Gulp! Forget I asked.
(WOLVES flee, followed by the SHEEP)
SHEEP: Wait up guys! Hey, was that man back there roasting a wolf? That sounds good! (Looks at camera and smiles, revealing rows of mega-sharp silver teeth.) What? You think all sheep are herbivores? Think again! (Exits)
MA: That was freaky.
LS: Well, it’s time for us to give our ratings. By the end of this film, it had won me over completely. I give THE GREY ~ three and a half knives.
MA: I liked this one a lot too, and enjoyed it from beginning to end. That being said, I wasn’t overly crazy about the ending. It was a little bleak.
LS: There you go again with your “I can’t stand bleak endings” attitude. What a wuss. Here. Put these on. (Puts a pair of Mickey Mouse ears on MA’s head.) Go smile and wave at little kids.
MA: I didn’t hate the ending. I just wasn’t crazy about it. I’d go on, but I don’t want to give anything away.
LS: That’s good, because I don’t’ want to talk about the ending too much either, but I will say that what happens stays true to the movie up to that point. This isn’t an easy movie where everything magically falls into place. There’s a certain honesty to it—another thing that sets it apart from your typical action movie. And the ending harkens back to a poem Ottway’s father had written when he was a kid and that he knew by heart.
A lot of the movie was like this—little powerful moments spread out throughout the journey—just a really good script.
MA: And the title of the movie, THE GREY, aptly describes the tone and themes of this film. THE GREY is rather gloomy, albeit exciting.
But all in all, like you, I liked THE GREY a lot, and I’m giving it three knives. I almost gave this one three and a half knives, but the dreariness factor prevented me from doing so.
LS: I still say you’re a wuss, Mickey. Anyway, we done? I’m hungry.
MA: Yeah, we’re done. How’s that wolf coming along? Well-done enough for you?
LS: Dammit! I got so carried away with the review I forgot to check on the wolf. It’s burnt! Oh well, lucky thing I got my STUBB’S.
MA (steps in a puddle): Where did this come from? I almost slipped in that mud.
LS: That is our good friend Frosty!
MA (laughs): Here, have a pine cone appetizer (tosses him a pine cone)
Well, folks, that’s it for now. We’ll see you next week with a review of another new movie.
LS: I wonder if you can smoke this thing? (Lights pine cone and takes a puff.)
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives THE GREY ~ THREE knives!
LL Soares gives THE GREY~THREE AND A HALF knives.