The Grey finds a group of roughnecks on board a plane in weather that would have grounded 99.9% of all flights. We know very little about these men, other than the fact Ottway's job at the drilling site was to kill wolves. We also see in the opening moments of the film that he's freshly out of a relationship with a woman he still loves and misses. We don't know what happened to break them up, but we know it left Ottway (Neeson) so devastated that he was on the verge of killing himself right before boarding the plane to return home.
His fellow passengers on this ill-fated flight are your standard horror movie fare, meaning they have one-dimensional personalities lifted straight from the supporting characters instructional manual. And after the one designated as the group's joker (Joe Anderson) makes a crack about the plane crashing, of course the plane crashes into the wilderness, in the middle of a blizzard, with no visible means of rescue, and without any supplies necessary to stay alive in the frigid conditions. Yet the pack of seven survivors do manage to make it through the first few hours before they learn that the weather isn't their only enemy. Oh no, these unfortunates have crashed down in the middle of the hunting range of a vicious pack of overgrown wolves.
Fortunately for them, Ottway's become a bit of a wolf whisperer (probably from having to shoot so many of the poor creatures who need to hunt to live). Ottway knows what the wolves are thinking, and tries to plot the group's escape path based on where they would least likely be forced to square off against the wolves. But just as the human survivors have Ottway's whispering skills, the wolf pack has an alpha male in charge who seems to have made it his goal in life to pick these intruders off one at a time. It's a battle of alpha males with the lives of the wolf pack and the ragtag pack of humans hanging in the balance. Forget the Super Bowl, this is the Ice Bowl pitting Team Human vs Team Wolf.
The Bottom Line:
Neeson's terrific in The Grey, carrying the film past the intrusive insertion of backstories for characters who we all know are just there to serve as food for the hungry, constantly within earshot but mostly out of frame wolves. Neeson's presence commands your attention, even when he's sharing the screen with six wolf silhouettes only distinguishable by the lights in their eyes. And I'd be totally remiss not to mention at this time that while Neeson does everything and more of what's requested/required to sell this story, those wolves...well, they leave a lot to be desired. They're not as cheesily campy as Twilight's, but they're close. Why are their eyes lit up out in the darkness surrounding the survivor's camp, only to suddenly all turn off at the same time?
The wolf effects are a problem, but on the bright side, the chill factor never lets the audience down. The cinematography is gorgeous, and it does appear these poor men are stuck out in the most inhospitable climate imaginable. Sure, the wind blasts when it needs to and remains still for those important close-ups as characters die, but never once does it feel as though these characters aren't in danger of dying from exposure. The actors almost literally froze to death making the film and that absolutely shows in the final product.
There's a lot of snarling going on, and not just from the wolves in The Grey. But there's also a lot of raging against past injustices, a debate over the existence of God, and remorse over lost loves. This takes time away from the actual encounters between men and beasts, so if you're going into The Grey solely for the action, prepare to be disappointed. Co-writer and director Joe Carnahan keeps the wolves at bay as much as possible, stretching the time periods between fight scenes as long as he can until he's forced into pushing the two opposing forces together again. There's a lot of existential discussions between these surviving men (some strangers, some close friends) that's quite unexpected and only sporadically welcome. Also unwelcome are scenes in which green screen work has not been seamlessly integrated into the film. One scene in particular involving actors leaping off a cliff not only didn't work from the audience's standpoint but was so jarring that it threw off every scene that followed.
It's not the acting by Neeson and his co-stars Joe Anderson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney or Dallas Roberts and not even the overall plot that lets The Grey down. It's the wolf effects, an overload of speeches, and, ultimately, a very unsatisfying ending that do in this chilly thriller.
The Grey was directed by Joe Carnahan and is rated R for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language.
Theatrical Release: January 27, 2012