Movie Review: The Grey
- Feb. 8, 2012
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Start with Ernest Hemingway’s concept of nature as a macrocosmic mirror for a man at war with himself. Then factor in Cormac McCarthy’s fascination with characters whose wicked lives only achieve release in the instant of their own ugly, passionate demise. Finally, add one royally pissed off ex-Jedi and a pack of ravenous wolves, and you’ll have some idea of the experience awaiting you in Joe Carnahan’s survivalist drama “The Grey.”
Equal parts action flick and existential thriller, “The Grey” is far more than just an excuse to watch Liam Neeson sucker punch wolves for two hours. In fact, those going in with the expectation of a popcorn movie may emerge disappointed. Although steeped in geysers of gore and surgically applied tension, “The Grey” is spare and moody where lesser films would have howled for more jump-scares and clumsy humor.
Neeson plays Ottway, a sniper in the employ of an oil company stationed in the farthest reaches of the Alaskan tundra. Ottway’s job is to kill any beast that gets too close to the drill site and its workers, a squalid crew of mal-adapted loners and ex-cons like himself. After an unspecified tragedy involving his wife, he’s spent years making an island of himself, ritualistically preparing for his own death. This attitude changes quickly, however, after a terrible plane crash leaves himself and seven other survivors stranded deep in the frozen wilderness, pursued by wolves that seem almost supernaturally cunning and cruel.
No actor alive can exude world-weary tenacity better than Neeson, and he infuses Ottway with a gruff, wounded grace rarely glimpsed among today’s sorry crop of action stars. And special mention must be made of Greg Nicotero’s special effects team, whose mangy timberwolves gradually come to resemble four-legged angels of death, aberrant evidence of a blind or indifferent God. Yet despite the film’s bleak outlook, the action never lags and the ending manages to feel genuinely triumphant. Here’s the first great movie of 2012.
3 ½ out of 4 stars