Your classic Man vs Nature as Liam Neeson and friends struggle to survive in wild Alaska after their plane crashes. On top of the freezing conditions and complete isolation, the plane happens to land in the middle of a wolf pack’s hunting territory. Thus the battle begins as the wolves hunt down the humans threatening their turf.
Continuing in his new vein of ‘aging sentimental action hero who can still kick anyone’s arse’, Liam Neeson heads this action-tragedy, playing the depressed John Ottway who works as a sniper protecting the oil-drillers in wolf-infested Alaska.
Lonely, heart-broken, faith-less and having lost his will to live, Ottway is most glum and considering suicide. Yet when their plane home crashes and their lives are threatened by a pack of particularly smart and vicious wolves, Ottway’s desire to survive kicks back into gear with a vengeance.
Now this is what I’m talking about! Good old ‘Man vs Nature’ mixed with ‘Man vs Man’ – plus a bit of ‘Man vs Self’ and Man vs Beast! Alright! Prepare for a numb bum; this film has you sat on the edge of your seat.
Shot in gritty, raw 35mm film, The Grey lacks your usual glossy, bright finish that the new age of digital cinema keeps churning out, and the film is all the better for it. If anything it makes the film feel more tangible and scary.
Shot in the gorgeous and wild British Columbia Canada, we see our cast genuinely lost in a world of white. Blizzards and pine-trees a-plenty; the scenery is stunning and ultimately engulfing. Our cast look utterly defenseless against the might of nature.
Neeson reports it to have got down to -40 degrees on location and the weather we see in the film is real not CGI.
Swirling snow always makes for stunning cinematography, and The Grey is no different. The photography adds to the suspense of the story juxtapositioning really tight, fast, shaky action shooting with quiet, wide-angle slow and deliberate emotional scenes
Extreme close-up shooting is not for everyone. It leaves you slightly bewildered as you get a sense of what’s happening rather than actually see it all unfold. But the reality is in fast high-pressure situations you don’t have a clear view of what’s going on. This style of shooting makes us experience the same confusion as the character
The plane crash shot in this fashion is one of the most intense I have seen on film.
The premise is not overly believable. Sure it’s highly likely there’s a risk of wolf attacks in Alaska, but to have such a smart bunch stalking you…picking you off one by one purely for vengeance rather than for eating…yes, you have to suspend your believe just a tad
The wolves feel almost supernatural. They appear to ‘hang’ over the group. You always sense they are there, watching and waiting, and you feel the threat even when they can’t be seen. Much like a ghost or unexplainable force, we can sense them – and they freak you out.
This supernatural feel is increased by the subtle shooting of the pack. They are in shadow, or partially hidden for much of the film – excellent way to ensure we aren’t scoffing at crummy CGI wolves (*cough* Twilight cough*)
The film isn’t exactly rocket science, nor is it one for deconstructing, but Writer / Director /Producer Joe Carnahan (The A Team) succeeds at adding some nice layers to the story. There’s an undercurrent of the debate of faith and an underlying theme of death and the human reaction to it (acceptance or denial).
The acting is solid throughout. It is a common failure of disaster movies involving a group of survivors to have a couple of awful extras thrown into the minor roles. But everyone in our surviving team is utterly believable.
Neeson is, as always, warm and cuddly whilst still succeeding at being the tough leader on whom we can all depend.
Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Limitless) was initially cast in the role, but had to withdraw leaving the way open for Neeson. In hindsight a lucky move as despite Coopers delicious looks and charming persona, having seen the role cast older, Cooper’s youth would have left something lacking. The defeated character who rises again definitely called for grey hair and wrinkles.
There’s no doubt about it: The Grey is a nail-biting ride. Watching it in a full cinema, the groans, the “ooohs and ahhs” (and the screamer sat in the row behind) were majorly audible proving the audiences complete engagement.
Carnahan being Writer / Director /Producer allows him to maintain ultimate power over his film and he is true to the genre. He doesn’t hold back or ‘wimp out’ to please the masses…I can say no more without revealing a major spoiler….
The Grey is an engaging, suspense-filled, fun ride. Perfect Friday night cinema: it is pure entertainment. See it on the big screen!
The Grey is a solid 3.5 star film, but I’m gonna stir things up a bit and give it 4 due to Carnahan’s boldness!
The Grey rated 4 out of 5.
In Aussie Cinemas February 16th.