Sharpshooter John Ottway (Liam Neeson) works for an oil refinery in Alaska, where he protects the oil-rig workers from wild wolves. The workers are a motley lot, comprising ex convicts and outcasts. Like most of the workers, Ottway has his own demons but he is a loner, confiding in no-one. After a grueling five-week shift, Ottway and the gang are fllying back to Anchorage for their break, when the plane crashes, leaving a few survivors, including Ottway, in freezing conditions in the middle of the Alaskan snow, surrounded by ferocious wolves, intent on protecting their territory.
Review by Louise Keller:
Life and death sit side by side in this gripping survival tale set in the freezing wilderness, where the howling of feral wolves echoes across the punishing landscape. Shot in the wilds of British Colombia, the harsh, wintry white setting with its vast expanses of thick snow, pristine under treacherous weather conditions, plays a key role in establishing the mindset of the men thrown to its mercy, after their plane crashes, leaving them with nothing but their wits and the will to survive.
In many ways the setting sets the tone and there's nothing glossy about Joe Carnahan's film (based on a short story by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers) as man battles the elements of nature and jolts us into a mindset in which the dark crevices of existence are explored. Liam Neeson's powerful presence is the central focus of the story; he is our compass as we experience the terror, the isolation, the conflict, the hope and the many obstacles to survival - both physical and mental.
Ottway (Neeson) is a man in pain. With a voice drowning in desperation, Ottway describes his life on the oilrig and his role in protecting the outcasts who work there, by shooting the prowling wolves. He has a low opinion of the men he protects, calling them unfit to be part of mankind and it is clear that he has an equally low opinion of himself, admitting that he has stopped doing any good in this world. He is ready to end it all, but something stops him from pulling the trigger and ending his misery. Live or die on this day, he says to himself, as if the words are a mantra.
A recurring scene involving a beautiful woman plays again and again in Ottway's mind; the white sheets of the fantasy are replaced by the white blankets of snow as he is jolted from a sweet reality into one of nightmare proportions. There are terrifying scenes of turbulence and chaos prior to the devastating plane crash that leaves only seven surviving men to try to survive the elements. The men quickly understand their plight, having to combat the freezing conditions, the lack of food and most deadly, the hungry, howling wolves protecting their den and whose piercing eyes form ghostly almond lights in the dead of night.
Much of the film deals with the physical ordeal - walking knee-high in quicksand-like snow and navigating through blizzards but the territorial wolves whose threat is a grizzly and bloodied reality bring the greatest terror. Is this nature's irony at work, as the prey becomes the predator?
Not everyone survives. There are conflicts and manic outburst as well as deep and meaningful conversations in which the men share a glimpse of their inner lives and the special people who play a part. We learn more about Ottway, too and the key to everything that has gone before - just at the end of the film. The subtlety in which this is done makes it doubly effective. Life, death and the hereafter are so close, you can almost touch them all.
Adventure, survival tale and psychological drama, The Grey takes us into a gritty netherworld that lies somewhere between life and death. The beauty of the landscape with its snow-covered fir trees, expanses of white and picture postcard mountains are a contradiction to the horrors and struggles that take place within it. Music is used sparingly and to great effect while cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (The Warrior), captures the contrast of the harshness and the beauty perfectly.
I love this film. I sat on the edge of my seat, mesmerized by the stunning scenery, moved by the plight of the men and stimulated by the film's pulse. Neeson is magnificent, leading a small but excellent cast in what is a haunting and chilling experience.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Survival stories in which humans are pitted against pitiless nature have a certain raw appeal as cinema, partly because we are safe yet involved in a special kind of danger. Some are plain thrill vehicles with perfunctory characters and plots but there is nothing perfunctory about The Grey, a layered combination of tension and emotion.
We meet Ottway (Liam Neeson) at the end of his emotional rope, pining for his beloved wife (Anne Openshaw), full of self doubt. It's no surprise he's in a remote outpost, the end of the line for the desperate men who work the rig in Alaska's wintry heart. Intermittently, he is writing a note about his predicament but confesses he doesn't know why or what it will achieve.
It's not until much later that this piece of the emotional jigsaw falls into place with a thud that nudges our hearts.
The first act ends when the plane crashes in a wild storm, breaking up and killing most on board. Ottway and several others survive, but are soon in deadly danger from a pack of hefty grey wolves whose den can not be far away. These intruders must be killed.
There are echoes of John Boorman's iconic survival drama Deliverance (1972) as the men come to realise that nature has no pity, no feelings. It is what it is. The way the men interact is part of the drama, as hotheads and fools are revealed beneath the macho masks.
Neeson leads a fabulous cast as he establishes authority tempered with wisdom and sensitivity. Ottway is a natural leader and Liam is perfect for the role, ruggedly masculine yet plainly vulnerable. There is a deeper melancholy edge to his character as it reflects on his private life.
Great work from all the men makes the film a dramatic delight as well as a thrilling adventure - or rather, a survival chase in which the wolves and nature are the enemy.
Beautifully filmed and edited, The Grey has an abrupt ending - cut to black - which is reminiscent of John Sayle's controversial ending for his film, Limbo (1999) - which incidentally was also set in Alaska. But do wait until after the credits for a short final shot.
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GREY, THE (TBA)
CAST: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, James Badge Dale, Dallas Roberts, Nonso Anozie, Joe Anderson, Ben Bray, Anne Openshaw
PRODUCER: Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Joe Carnahan, Jules Daly, Mickey Liddell,
DIRECTOR: Joe Carnahan
SCRIPT: Joe Carnahan, Ian MacKenzie Jeffers,
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Masanobu Takayanagi
EDITOR: Roger Barton, Jason Hellman, Joseph Jett Sally
MUSIC: Marc Streitenfeld
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Willett
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 16, 2012