Jan 31, 2012
Liam Neeson is that rare breed of actor who grows more badass with age, who, at the cusp of 60, appears quite credible besting men 30 years younger – or anyone else foolish enough to provoke him. In The Grey – a macho man-versus-wild epic directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan – his foe is no less formidable than Mother Nature, in all her fury. She has met her match.
Neeson plays Ottway, a man whose sole job on an Alaskan oil rig consists of gunning down the occasional wolf that makes a run at an oilworker. (Fences, apparently, being in short supply in the Arctic.) Ottway is a hard, stoic sort, and one gets the strong sense that he tended toward irascibility even before his wife departed (for reasons not made clear till late in the film), taking with her his remaining purpose for living. He gains a new one, appropriately enough, when his flight home crashes down in the Alaskan wilderness, killing all but a handful of its passengers. Ottway, his survival skills honed in a previous life, emerges as the only person capable of guiding them to salvation.
Carnahan surrounds Neeson with an ensemble of familiar types, the most notable of which are Talget (Dermot Mulroney), the family man, Henrick (Dallas Roberts), the conscience, and Diaz (Frank Grillo), the jerk. They encounter the predictable male team-building hurdles, puffing chests and locking horns, before Ottway asserts himself as the Alpha Male. Figuring they’ll perish before salvation arrives, they agree to make the perilous trek to the nearest human habitat, braving an number of dangers, the most fearsome of which are the ravenous “rogue wolves” that roam the landscape. (The film, shot in British Columbia in conditions that were apparently every bit as brutal as they appear on-screen, certainly looks authentic – both beautiful and ominous.)
When they aren’t battling the predatory menace, the men have time – far too much time – to reflect upon their plight and its existential implications. The Grey would have been perfectly enjoyable as a straightforward survival epic, the “Liam punches wolves” movie promised by the trailer, but Carnahan is intent on imbuing the film with a philosophical poignancy wholly unsuitable for a film featuring lines like “We’re in Fuck City, Population Five,” and “We’re gonna cook this son of a bitch!” – the latter uttered at the capture of one of the wolves. As a film, Carnahan’s ponderous and heavy-handed tendencies leave The Grey feeling a bit overcooked.