Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Joe Carnahan
Stars: Liam Neeson, Nonso Anozie, Joe Anderson, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Anne Openshaw.
It’s man versus wild in this harrowing tale of survival that makes the Anthony Hopkins/Alec Baldwin film The Edge seem quite tame by comparison. The Grey has been adapted from Ian Mackenzie Jeffers’s short story Ghost Walker, and there is an almost existential touch to the story as it also deals with the theme of death.
A plane carrying a number of workers from a remote oil refinery in Alaska crashes in the middle of the Arctic Circle. The handful of survivors consist of brawlers, drinkers, outcasts and lost souls who are forced to band together to survive the harsh conditions. The small group of survivors includes Burke (Nonso Anozie), Flannery (Joe Anderson), the deeply religious Henrick (Dallas Roberts), the quiet and literate Talget (an almost unrecognisable Dermot Mulroney) and the ex-con Diaz (Frank Grillo). But unlike Alive the rather gruesome 1992 drama about a South American soccer squad that crashed in the Andes, they don’t resort to cannibalism. But they are being hunted by a pack of savage man-eating wolves, which pick them off one by one.
The enigmatic and taciturn John Ottway (Liam Neeson) seems like the natural leader of this motley group. A marksman he has been hired by the oil company to shoot wolves and protect those men working on remote pipelines. He is also something of an expert on the behaviour of the predatory wolves, and he says that their best chance of survival is to walk into the trees they can see in the distance. The wolves, Ottway says, are only defending their territory. “Wolves are the only animal that kill for revenge.”
They begin a gruelling trek across the vast snow-covered terrain to try and find sanctuary. But there is also tension and disagreement between the survivors, shaped by their own sense of insecurity, bravado and false courage, which further jeopardises their chances of survival. Increasingly aware of his mortality, Ottway has dreams of happier times with his wife (Anne Openshaw), who is seen in a series of flashbacks.
The Grey has been directed with brutal efficiency by Joe Carnahan, who brings a visceral and muscular, testosterone-fuelled quality to his films (Narc, Smoking Aces, the recent The A-Team, etc). The plane crash sequence itself is quite superbly done and deliberately disorients the audience. With his lean and spare approach to the material, Carnahan brings an unnerving air of danger to The Grey. The CGI created wolves, designed by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, pose a horrific threat. And even when they are not seen they can be heard and sensed as an omnipresent threat.
The film was shot on location in British Columbia by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (Warrior, etc). Takayanagi has captured the chilling snow-covered environment in bleak greys and washed out colours that is almost lyrical in its beauty, but also enhances the palpable air of danger.
The Grey is a visceral and at times scary survival thriller that benefits from the formidable physical presence of Neeson. He undergone a career renaissance as a credible action hero in take-no-prisoner films like Taken, Unknown and The A-Team, and that is put to good use in this tense and exciting thriller.