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Survival of the Fittest, or I Saw The Grey
January 27, 2012Posted by on
Every year or so Liam Neeson stars in another “dad fiction” genre film, and I eat those suckers up with a spoon. 2009 brought us Taken, perhaps the best film of its genre in the past decade (or at least the most entertaining). 2010 saw The A-Team, which while not a strong movie featured a great Neeson performance (and honestly the movie grew on me, though I still contend The Losers is the best of the “let’s put a crack team of military bad asses together” movie of 2010). In 2011, Neeson starred in Unknown, which wasn’t as good as Taken but was still pretty bad-ass (and featured a pretty great Frank Langella supporting role). This year, audiences get the amazing The Grey, which I saw tonight and will enjoy over and over again for years when it comes out on Blu Ray.
The Grey is a film that fits into the “survival of the fittest” sub-genre of film. This sub-genre features movies like Alive, Into the Wild, Touching the Void, Lord of the Flies, Castaway, and Flight of the Phoenix. As you might tell from me listing like a dozen movies in a row, I’m a huge sucker for this kind of film. I’m also a huge Survivor buff and gigantic Jack London fan. Anything about anyone surviving in the wild of some kind is like catnip to me. Putting Liam Neeson into a survival movie is like mixing chocolate with peanut butter (e.g., the results are fantastic!).
After a secret near suicide attempt, professional hunter John Ottway (Neeson) decides to leave the oil rig in northern Alaska where he works and re-enter society after a long exile. On a connecting flight to Anchorage, his plane (containing many other oil rig employees) crashes after a freak electrical failure. Ottway and a handful of other men survive the crash only to find they’ve landed smack dab in the middle of a ravenous wolf pack’s hunting territory. Using crash wreckage, luggage, and pretty much whatever they can find, Ottway and the men must make a run for the safety of the treeline and find a way to survive the harsh elements, and more importantly, the terrifying wolf pack.
There’s a lot to like about The Grey, chief of which may be Neeson’s subtle performance. Unlike Taken and The A-Team (where he went big and broad), Neeson is calm, rational, reserved, and frightened in The Grey. He’s a broken man, but a strong leader — and his fear is evident through the film’s running time. At one point, Neeson calls another survivor a fool because he claimed he wasn’t afraid of the elements and the wolves. The pain in Neeson’s voice is palpable, the fear recognizable for the audience. The supporting cast play their roles well enough (Dermot Mulroney is pretty good actually), but Neeson is an absolute tour de force.
In addition to the human element, there’s also the unforgiving element of nature. The scenery is gorgeous, especially the timberline, where the men dig into the evergreen to get away from the wolves. Speaking of the wolves, they’re fairly obviously CGI in most instances, but not enough to be distracting or take one out of the movie. The close-up shots are pretty good, but the faraway shots are a bit harder to swallow. The bigger wolves (including the alpha) clearly got a little more love from the digital artists.
I was surprised by just how pensive and philosophical The Grey turned out to be. Considering director Joe Carnahan’s filmography, I wasn’t expecting such a thought-provoking film. I highly recommend this film, and I consider it another notch in the belt of “bad-ass Liam Neeson movies.” I don’t know what has prompted Neeson to make such a dramatic late-career shift, but I’ll continue to look forward to new additions to his filmography each year.