Review: THE GREY (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Review: THE GREY (2012)

RATING: 2.5/5

When THE GREY is first previewed in the trailer, it seems clear that the movie is marketed as a typical survival thriller filled with testosterone-driven rage and action-adventure mayhem, especially with Liam Neeson casts as a main tough guy fighting against a pack of hungry wolves. But upon watching the movie, I'm very surprised it turns out to be a polar opposite. No doubt what has presented in the trailer and other marketing campaigns all this while are simply misleading. So if you are expecting a straightforward gritty entertainment, prepare to be disappointed. Instead writer-director Joe Carnahan strips off the familiar survival thriller territory with a surprisingly metaphorical take about man vs. nature. Such radical approach might alienate many viewers but those who are willing to look deeper will find this an emotionally-captivating experience worth watching for.

Ottway (Liam Neeson) is an oil-rig employee and expert marksman in killing wild animals at a remote Alaskan oil refinery. He doesn't interact much and prefers to be alone all the while. Apparently he suffers a severe depression as he is frequently tormented by vivid memories of his beautiful wife (Anne Openshaw), and he's on the verge of suicide. At one time, he holds the rifle against his mouth and ready to pull the trigger but hesitated after he heard a wolf howling somewhere nearby. Then we see him writing her a heartfelt letter before boarding an airplane along with other oil-rig crew to head back home.

But what follows next is an unexpected turn-of-event when the plane ends up crashing deep into the Alaskan wilderness. Aside from Ottway, the other survivors left alive are Diaz (Frank Grillo), Talget (an unrecognizable Dermot Mulroney), Henrick (Dallas Roberts), Flannery (Joe Anderson), Burke (Nonso Anozie) and Hernandez (Ben Bray). Without wasting time, Ottway quickly steps up as their leader and realizes he needs to put his tormented memories aside to stay alive together. With sub-zero temperatures and blanket of snow subsequently wear them down, it's not until they realize there's even a bigger threat in the form of a pack of hungry wolves waiting to pounce on them. Their only chance is to begin trekking across the thick snow and head into the woods, with a hope that will lead them to rescue. Will they survive in the end?

Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers's screenplay is daring enough to avoid most of the genre conventions and explore deeply into the psychological and emotional tension between these desperate survivors trying hard to stay alive. It's also a poignant metaphor that questions such issues of faith and morality against the mankind's indifference towards nature. No doubt it's an interesting subject matter rarely explored in this kind of genre, especially how they depict the harsh realities of surviving the nature.

Another plus point in this movie is the fleshed-out characters. Of all, Liam Neeson easily emerges as the best of the bunch. Likewise, he commands his role with an authoritative voice while effectively showcasing a sympathetic side of his character. No doubt this is among his most accomplished role to date, and it will be a waste if his emotionally-charged performance doesn't get recognized come award season at the end of the year.

Technical credits are above-average, with Masanobu Takayanagi's arresting cinematography convincingly uses the rugged terrain of British Columbia standing in for Alaskan wilderness. Meanwhile, Joe Carnahan also displays a sense of urgency during some of the movie's intense moments including scenes where the survivors trying to fend off a pack of wolves, and another one involving a daring attempt to get across a cliff.

The payoff is particularly the strongest moment in this movie -- a crucial scene is shown where the three remaining characters reveal their first names before parting ways; a quiet but affecting moment where Ottway look through a stash of salvaged wallets belonging to the survivors; and of course, the unconventional and stirring finale where Ottway finally overcome his fear and ready to fight for his live against a black-haired alpha male wolf.

As good as this movie trying to be, it still falls short for being Joe Carnahan's best effort since his 2002 breakthrough in NARC. There are times the movie feels preachy and spotty in parts. At two-hour long, the movie could have been shorter as well especially with all the redundant moments during the second half. For the wolves part, Carnahan does make a wise choice not to showcase too much of the wolves. But still, there are moments where the wolves look unconvincing (especially during the night scene in which the wolves' glowing eyes are shown), and Carnahan's favorable shaky camerawork during the wolf attack shot in intense closeup is sometimes annoying to look at.

By the way, viewers should remain in their seats through the end credits as the movie has an unexpected coda that showcases the uncertain fate of Ottway.

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