January 31, 2012

Movie Review: The Grey

I have to say, it has been pretty interesting to see Liam Neeson reinvent himself as a bad ass action star over the past few years. Just look at movies like Taken, Unknown, Clash of the Titans, Batman Begins, The A-Team, the Star Wars prequels, and now The Grey. Now, these are not strictly action films, but there is a certain level of tough guy attitude required for them. With The Grey, Neeson gets to stretch beyond pure action hero and journey into some interesting emotional depths in this reunion with his A-Team director Joe Carnahan.

The Grey is a contemplative, haunting, thrill ride that sees our reluctant hero struggling with his personal demons. Sure, it is pushed forward with what is likely not the most realistic portrayal of a pack of wolves  (I wanted to say wolf pack, but that gives me images of Liam Neeson being hunted by Zach Galifiniakis) ever shown, but as a metaphor it works quite well. The movie has its share of thrills, but it Not really about the thrills, they certainly serve their purpose, but there is more to the subtext.

As it opens, we are introduced to Ottway (Neeson). He works security at an oil drilling plant, keeping wolves away. We learn hat his wife has left him and he is seeing less and less purpose to his life, to the point of pondering suicide. However, he chooses not to. It's the bullet and when his term is up, he gets on that plane with the rest of the crew to return to civilization. This is where things begin to take a turn and he comes face to face with his mortality and his past. Well, I might be overselling it a bit at this point.

The Grey is a movie that, on the surface, is a man versus wild tale of survival. I grueling tale of saying alive in the face of certain death. It is like The Thing, but Kurt Russell had to face off with a pack of wolves instead of, well, whatever that shape shifting thing was. We get to watch Liam Neeson and a dwindling group of survivors battle it out across the tundra and through the woods. It is an exciting ride that keeps a certain pace going, leading us through the places they need to go. I guess you could boil it down to Neeson versus the wolves.

However, writer/director Joe Carnahan and writer Ian Jeffers have crafted something much more intelligent and emotional. Seriously. Again, the wolves behavior could not be described as typical, they serve their purpose. What makes this whole exercise work is the emotional complexity of Neeson's Ottway and the subplot surrounding his wife, it adds a level of poignancy to his character, thus deepening the overall effect. It also helps that the supporting cast is generally solid and bring more believable personalities and conflict to the mix.

I have to say that this movie sucked me in right from the start. Liam Neeson brings a commanding presence to the screen, allowing his ability to do action and serious drama to mingle, creating a complex take charge figure that is also morose and withdrawn. The score, from Marc Streitenfeld, is a wonderful piece conveying action and haunting memory throughout. Plus, it looks great. It may be a departure for Joe Carnahan, but he shows he has the skills to pull it off.

Highly Recommended.

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