The Grey is an American survival thriller starring Liam Neeson and directed by Joe Carnahan. Inspired by a short story called Ghost Walker, it follows a group of men who survive a plane crash in Alaska and find themselves on the run from a vicious pack of wolves. Shot in 40 days on location in Alaska, The Grey teams Carnahan up with producer Ridley Scott and star of one of his previous films, The A-Team. The film courted controversy from PETA for its portrayal of gray wolves and the fact that production bought four wolf carcasses, two for props and two for the cast to eat for a specific scene.
Survival thriller’s live and die by the level of threat and the performance of the central cast. Luckily for The Grey it gets it half right. Liam Neeson’s central performance of a man on the edge, close to suicide at the beginning until the crash gives him a reason to live is moving and powerful. He is utterly convincing as the alpha male of the group and he provides all of the highlights. Faith too, gives a strong underlying theme to The Grey. One of Neeson’s standout scenes involves him almost at breaking point, shouting for God to help him only to then defiantely mutter “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”
The Grey drifts between pitch-black and blistering white snow-scapes that perfectly highlight the isolation of the survivors. It is a disappointment that from this promising start however that the wolves are simply not threatening enough. It’s an odd choice by Carnahan to create an almost horror-like edge to the wolves. They’re placed somewhere between werewolves and hell hounds and it’s no wonder that animal rights activists took objection to their portrayal. For a species that have only recently been taken off the endangered species list, to create a mythology around them of being vicious and evil seems like a staggering misstep. However in this obvious tale of faith, morality and good vs. evil, they did need a villain.
The makers of The Grey obviously understand marketing as well as they understand making films. A ‘film companion’ was released alongside the film, targeted at Christian groups that highlighted the film’s spiritual quality and the final third is when the quality really shines through, as Neeson gets closer and closer to his face-off with the ‘alpha wolf.’ It is such a shame that the first two thirds are so slow and plodding and rarely allow the audience to engage. There are not nearly enough edge-of-the-seat moments and far too many cliched lines of dialogue to achieve the level of gravitas that the film-makers were obviously aiming for.
So after an interesting opening five minutes there is an hour-long lull, before everybody gets their acts together for a beautiful finale.
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