Published on February 12th, 2012 | by Matthew Gildea3
The Grey: Review
It’s unsettling to see Liam Neeson in a position of weakness. We’ve grown accustom to him defying the odds and overcoming all adversaries, as a CIA agent (Taken), an assassin (Unknown, Batman Begins) and of course, as Oscar Schindler (Schindler’s List). It seems that no matter what physical, political or mental threat you throw at the characters he plays, they always manage to come out on top, even posthumously. But The Grey sees a very different scenario. Liam Neeson is John Ottway. And John Ottway is out of his depth.
Working as a hired gun for an oil drilling company, Ottway is done. Barely out of the starting gates, he concedes defeat, as he beckons his rifle off his shoulder and into his mouth. It’s the belligerent environment that is taking its toll on all of the workers; the criminals, the loners and the outcasts, desperate enough to work in these conditions.
On a flight to a new drilling location, the plane goes off course and crashes into the Alaskan wild. Few survivors emerge from the crash, and led by survival expert Ottway, go about finding a way to survive. But it’s not only the elements they need to watch out for.
It’s the wolves that provide a constant threat to the survivors; watching them; following them; hunting them. It’s quite easy to condemn them to antagonist roles, despite the fact that this is their home. Sure, The Grey’s wolves may be slightly more sinister than their real life counterparts, but they’re still animals, caring for their young and homes. And Ottway knows this, which is why they need to try and avoid the den.
And so begins an hours bizarre storytelling. The film never really settles on what it wants to be. It’s not a gore-fest, nor is it a tale of mans dominance over nature. It’s a story of religion; of companionship; of determination in the face of failure. It’s a story that boasts of these things, yet shows their holdback. They are there, and offer as much comfort as you want their comfort. They’re not an ailment, but an ideology. They’re not shown as failures, nor as successes; sort of in the middle. Grey.
The Grey is fast, tense and scary. The pacing doesn’t radically change throughout, and there’s never a time when you want things to hurry up. It’s not really a horror film, but contains enough of an inflamed atmosphere that you’ll forever be wondering where the next surprise will come from. There are moments that’ll throw you out of your seat, much like Paranormal Activity or The Descent. It’s a culmination of covert techniques that work wonderfully whilst not detracting from what the film is trying to be; a character-driven story.
Ottway has received all of the mention so far, despite being one of seven survivors. The sad reality is, the other characters are forgettable and disposable. We barely have any connection to the characters, who we vaguely differentiate as ‘the one with glasses’ or ‘the douchebag’. These stereotypes simply serve as the further differentiation between ‘people who aren’t Liam Neeson’ and Liam Neeson. Because we simply don’t care about them. Sure, our focus is and should be on John Ottway, but there is so little connection with the other characters that you don’t even remember their names when they die. It’s a disappointment that the only time a non-Neeson character gets near to becoming appreciated is when Talget is reminiscing about his time with his daughter. Then, his story is finished so quickly we don’t even have time to contemplate whether we want him to survive or not. We simply watch anytime one of these ‘secondary characters’ dies, when we should be supporting them, rather than disinterested in their fates.
But, this is John’s story, and John is human. Whenever he’s asleep or lost in thought, we are thrown into an alternative environment with him and his partner in bed. As a lingering plot-hole, it drifts in and out of John’s consciousness, never outstaying its welcome and giving a human insight into a character that wants to fight a pack of wolves head-on. It brings a sense of human emotion to a character and scenario in foreign circumstances, impossible to comprehend for an audience of city-captive drones. We work. We eat. We sleep. We say we survive, but we never really have anything more hazardous than a common cold to overpower. There are real people out there, perhaps not in as malevolent or melodramatic circumstances as The Grey pursues, but certainly in a more danger-centric world than our own, and this brings our worlds closer together.
This isn’t just a gritty Dog Soldiers, but a story of motivation; of overcoming personal loss; of finding the road in the darkness. This is Liam Neeson’s story, both fictitiously and genuinely, as we watch one man’s struggle to overcome everything the world throws at him, and everything that he has thrown at him on the inside. If only the other characters were represented like this, we’d have had the film that Lost spent over a hundred hours trying to be.
Summary: Liam Neeson versus a pack of wolves makes for one of the most satisfying films of the year, and one that offers a little more bite than you would expect. Not since Darth Maul has his nemesis been so intimidating.