Review: “The Grey” (2012)

The only thing colder than the icy death stare of Liam Neeson is the Alaskan wilderness he struggles to survive in in his latest film, “The Grey.”

Since his career-altering role in 2008’s “Taken,” Neeson has found himself visiting our local theatres at the start of every year to remind us just how well he can throw a punch.

Things are a little different this time around, though, as Neeson’s character, John Ottoway must brave the harsh conditions of the Alaskan winter with six other survivors after a plane crash.

As they quickly learn, the cold weather and lack of food/water aren’t the only threats to their survival. A pack of wolves continually hunts the survivors, picking them off one by one.

Their choice is simple: stay put and hope the wolves don’t kill them all before a rescue party finds them or try to find their own way home.

Neeson is in top form with this survival tale. He still carries the macho man attitude and hardcore dialogue that people expect of him these days, but his character is much more than that. It is a layered performance that should remind audiences that this is the same actor from movies like “Schindler’s List.”

After taking a short break from good filmmaking to make 2010’s “The A-Team,” director Joe Carnahan has returned to his early signs of promise with this film. The early plane crash scene is fantastic in that it is both well shot and really gives the audience the feeling of what a plane crash would feel like if you were there.

While I wasn’t too appreciative of the choice of shaky cam in a couple of scenes and the director’s need for almost every shot to be a close-up (Let the camera explore the wilderness!), Carnahan puts together a pretty solid film overall.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was the great soundtrack by German composer Marc Streitenfeld. It fits the film incredibly well with moments of despair, tension and horror. Near the end of the film, it fits perfectly with what is happening onscreen.

As for the negatives, there are mainly two complaints that I have. The first has to do with the realism of the film’s circumstances. Would wolves be attacking 7 men? Are Neeson’s character’s ideas the best? While I do appreciate realism in films at times, I don’t feel like the lack of it here takes away from the film too much. It would have been nice, but it’s still great to watch.

Secondly, there is little-to-no character development for 70% of the people onscreen. When watching the credits afterward (side note: stay until after the credits for a little bonus scene), I found myself asking twice “Wait. That guy was in this?!” Most of the characters have facial hair and are constantly covering their faces so it can be hard at times to know who is who.

Aside from those two things, I felt like this film was lightyears ahead of what we usually see at this time of year. While some may find the ending a little unsatisfying, it fits the movie’s message and I thought it worked.

Grade: B

Come back in the next few days to see the second half of my favorite films of 2011. Next week I’ll start getting ready for one of my favorite nights of the year, the Academy Awards.

Happy viewing.

 

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