The Grey (2012)

The Grey (2012) – And all I was looking for was Liam Neeson punching some wolves… instead The Grey ends up being kind of amazing. The studio is even talking about re-releasing it in the fall so it remains fresh in Oscar voter’s minds (mostly for Neeson’s benefit). Now I think in the following 11 months ten better movies and five better lead performances probably will come along so the Oscar hopes may be very premature, but none of that takes away from the fact that The Grey is much more than the wolf-punching actioner the trailers indicate. Marketing always seems tricky for movie studios. Anything that doesn’t neatly conform to prepackaged ideas needs to be sold as something else. Even then it’s not like the trailers are horribly misleading. It is a movie filled with wolf attacks and a whole metric fuckton of suspense, but it still seems like the movies depth is being short-changed. Then again, how deep can a two and a half minute trailer get?

Neeson plays Ottway (until a scene close to the end, all characters are just referred to by their surnames). Ottway’s job is to shoot wolves so they don’t attack the workers on an Alaskan oil pipeline. The remote working conditions tend to attract a rough crowd or people running away from something. Ottway appears to be both. He is despondent about life without his wife (Anne Openshaw) and even contemplates suicide. He doesn’t kill himself though. Instead he gets on a plane to take him and his co-workers back to civilization. The plane crashes. Seven men survive: Ottway, Diaz (Frank Grillo), Talget (Dermot Mulroney), Hendrick (Dallas Roberts), Flannery (Joe Anderson),Burke (Nonso Anozie), and Lewenden (James Badge Dale). The wolves come and that number quickly becomes six. The group makes many a desperate plan for survival as their numbers dwindle.

One of the film’s biggest strengths is the characterization. With the exception of one character killed off too quickly to be well-rounded, each of the seven men is fleshed out to feel like a real person not just a stock “type” that is usually found in this type of movie. Other movies have tried the “initially suicidal man regains will to live through trying circumstances” thing before (Stargate comes to mind) but few have ever done it as masterfully as this one. Neeson excels in the lead role, and Frank Grillo also gives his character more layers than most movies would bother with. Some people are going to be pissed off at the ending to this film. To them I say: STAY THROUGH THE CREDITS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. (They still might be pissed about the ending but it will at least be a more informed opinion.) It seems weird to hang a “best of 2012” tag on the first (and thus far only) movie of 2012 I’ve seen, but I feel The Grey earns it. Joe Carnahan (former Sacramento native!) has made a damn fine film.

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