From the first preview released, The Grey was marketed essentially as the next Taken: an action-packed thriller with Liam Neeson trudging through Alaska wiping out local fauna in a rampage of revenge.
However, the film has been mis-marketed. If you are going to see this film expecting Taken, you’ll be met with something completely different than what you hoped for.
The film follows Ottway (Liam Neeson), a marksman for an Alaskan oil company whose job is to prevent wolves from attacking the workers. Ottway and a small group of other workers board an airplane to go out on leave, but the plane suffers an engine failure mid-flight and crashes, leaving Ottway and seven other survivors in the middle of nowhere.
Unfortunately, a pack of wolves doesn’t take too kindly to a plane crashing in their territory and quickly takes down the survivor count to six. Ottway, the resident wolf expert, takes charge of the group and leads them to start walking back to civilization.
This is where the film begins to go downhill. It turns into a formulaic man versus wild tale, with the wolves and the wilderness occasionally picking the survivors off one by one as they trudge on. The wolves don’t feel like an imminent threat. Other than their howling in the night, they don’t really appear until it’s time for a clean-up kill on someone who was already injured. Later on, the movie throws a curveball when the survivors start to obsess over existentialist questions, like “what’s the point?” or “who’s next?”
The film does have its merits. The performances, especially Liam Neeson’s commanding presence as the lead, are quite good. The supporting cast also provides quality acting, each fitting into their roles nicely.
Unfortunately, the supporting roles are clichés. You have the rebellious guy with the dark past who lashes out against the group’s hierarchy, the guy who refrains from speaking for no particular reason, and the guy with the family (making his death all the more tragic). The film doesn’t do much to develop the other characters out of these paradigms.
The Grey is a winner in the cinematography department. Some of the shots, especially the long distance shots in the wilderness, with cold mountain vistas in the backdrop, look stunning on the big screen. The lighting and use of cold blue filters really provides a convincing sense of immersion in the environment.
There are also a few very strong scenes—particularly the plane crash, which is probably the scariest crash I’ve ever seen on screen—and a shocking scene in the aftermath when Ottway encourages a mortally wounded man to let go, much to the horror of the rest of the survivors.
I had a lot of trouble figuring out if I liked the ending of the movie, and I still find myself conflicted. Artistically, it’s a great ending, but I still feel like I was cheated. The movie builds up to a tense climax and then cuts to the credits at the height of the suspense. A scene after the credits provides some true closure.
The Grey is an aptly named film, as it often finds itself wavering between greatness and unwatchability. A truly strong anchoring performance by Liam Neeson as well as excellent cinematography show great promise, but the film’s derivative survival plot and poorly developed supporting cast really keep it from reaching any great heights.