The Grey

Certificate: 15
Running Time: 117 mins
Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo
Genre: Action, Thriller
Country: USA

Having made something of a name for himself with Narc, director Joe Carnahan found himself drawn into the sensory candy store that is the high concept Action movie genre with the surprisingly entertaining Smokin’ Aces, and the sadly disappointing The A-Team.  Teaming up with Liam Neeson (officially known as Big Liam in Northern Ireland) one year later are there any shades to The Grey or are the reviews pretty much black and white?

When word came down that Big Liam was taking on wolves in his next movie it crossed my mind how interesting it would be to see an Escape to Victory style movie set in the Midlands against the crushing backdrop of the recession.  The Grey is not this movie though.  When his airplane crashes in Alaska leaving six survivors in the middle of nowhere up against a pack of hungry wolves it’s up to Neeson (or Big Liam) to lead them to safety or find themselves as a raw starter.

A friend described this movie (between laughs) as “as stupid as Deep Blue Sea and it wasn’t long before I was able to see what he was talking about.  Yes, it is true that wolves hunt in packs but whether or not they’ve mastered flanking manoeuvres, strategy or misdirection is open for debate…I’m not even sure Wolves (the football club) have that level of tactical prowess.  As an animal lover it has something of a dangerous message for the masses.  It’s very much a hobbies from the mind of Sarah Palin feel to it.  Big bad wolves are evil, we should probably kill them all, one at a time…while we’re at it why not get rid of all the bears, snakes and why not cats?  They do look at you funny after all.  It might seem like an odd criticism for a popcorn flick but with so many people taking what little education they can squeeze into their heads from cinema it is a little unsettling how easily acceptable these notions can be.  Saying that, it’s understandable.  Genre movies need antagonists.  In this instance the untamed, untameable wild plays antagonists to Neeson and his band of anti-heroes.  The problem with the wild baddie is, much like that of the Sci-Fi alien baddie, all too often we’re unable to view anything in the film from their vantage point and they become one dimensional which in turn makes the film boring, predictable and lacklustre.  For the most part Carnahan tries to stave off this by having a little bit of in-fighting amongst ours heroes but again this is riddled with problems.  From the get-go they’re described as criminals and assholes making it a little difficult to care.  For the most part (with the exception of Big Liam) I was on the wolves’ side.

Very little stands out in the way of acting.  Big Liam (as Ottway) throws down his Taken, Non-Stop, Unknown performance and has openly stated he’s out to make as many action movies as possible while his knees hold out –good luck to him.  Dermot Mulroney gives a muted performance having not been given too much to do on screen and the rag-tag band of bastards are all interchangeable.  The biggest shame is that James Badge Dale (The Departed, 24) has the least amount to do and the most amount of talent.

There are some nice touches in The Grey –and they’re all down to Carnahan.  The use of the white snow against the pitch black night creates a nightmarish, almost Weimarian, landscape to set this narrative against.  Neeson’s early moments remembering his wife are handled extremely well with a lovely stylistic that you wish would continue throughout the movie –but it doesn’t.  As the film goes on the identity and style bottlenecks until it becomes run of the mill.

The overwhelming problem with The Grey is it is that of mixed messages.  At heart, thematically, it's a war movie yet it's a war that most of the audience are uncomfortable with them fighting.  The men are laid siege to and in the end have to seek a stronghold they can defend.  What could have made this film interest would be if it took place man-on-man, as it would have had a level to play on that saw man fight against nature (man’s nature) but unfortunately it’s literary man versus nature.  Ridiculous?  No?  Imagine watching the same movie only they’re in Alaska up against seals.


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