***1/2 (out of 5)
January 27, 2012
Liam Neeson as OTTWAY
Dallas Roberts as HENDRICK
Frank Grillo as DIAZ
Dermot Mulroney as TALGET
Nonso Anozie as BURKE
Joe Anderson as FLANNERY
Ben Bray as HERNANDEZ
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
A couple years ago before the entire torture porn genre collapsed on itself, it was a yearly event to see advertisements that said, “If it’s Halloween, it must be SAW!” This was a nod to the fact that a new “Saw” movie was released each year right before Halloween. Now, that trend has been replaced with a new “Paranormal Activity” film tradition at the end of October.
Another trend has emerged, and that is in January. It’s not a Nicolas Cage film at the beginning of the year or the assurance that some terrible movies will be released in the first few weeks of the year. Instead, January is becoming known as a time when a movie comes out featuring Liam Neeson kicking a whole lotta ass.
Several years ago, he beat the crap out of human traffickers in “Taken.” Last year, he took on the assassination game in “Unknown.” This year, he’s facing a pack of man-eating wolves in “The Grey.”
Neeson plays Ottway, a man hired to work at an Alaskan oil refinery, killing any wolves that got too close to the workers. At the end of a cycle, he and the crew are flying back to Anchorage when the plane crashes. The survivors find themselves stranded in the middle of the frozen Alaskan wilderness, and to make matters worse, they discover they’re in the middle of the hunting ground of a very territorial wolf pack.
The film continues from this point as a basic man-versus-nature movie, following the group of survivors as they attempt to find shelter, protection and hopefully a rescue in the vast Alaskan frontier. Along the way, the wolves are closing in, trying to pick them off one-by-one, getting rid of what they see as a threat to their hunting territory.
There’s been a disturbing trend lately, which isn’t new but has just gotten more egregious, for movie trailers to either give too much away about the film or blatantly mislead the audience into thinking the movie will be something different than what it really is. Recently, trailers for movies like “Warrior” and “Dream House” revealed key plot points down to the last ten minutes of the story. A couple years ago, the trailer for “Predators” included altered footage to suggest an army of aliens rather than a half dozen.
The marketing for “The Grey” does both of these things, firstly revealing footage and shots from the last few minutes of the film. Additionally, it gives the impression the film is wall-to-wall man-versus-wolf battles. So, avoid the trailers if at all possible.
Fortunately, even if you can’t, there aren’t many surprises in this movie as it plays out rather predictably. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since this is a relatively straightforward story that doesn’t try to throw in unnecessary plot twists that would make it hopelessly trite.
So for as predictable and standard of a thriller as “The Grey” is, it’s still a compelling film. The cast carries the film well, with Dermot Mulroney giving a surprisingly mature performance as one of the survivors. But it’s Neeson who really pulls the film along and raises it above the level of a humdrum thriller. The movie isn’t about wolves, per se. Rather, it’s about the humanity of a group with dwindling numbers.
Joe Carnahan, who has directed solid flicks like “The A-Team” and “Smokin’ Aces,” offers a more personal film than I’m used to seeing. It’s arguably his best film, though it’s not worth the October Oscar run he’s demanding from the studio.
Still, “They Grey” is a strong man-versus-nature film that shows the thousands of ways Alaska can kill you, and it even manages to be quite touching at times.