Liam Neeson takes on angry wolves and Mother Nature in the tense thriller The Grey – a film that goes for the jugular from the beginning and will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end credits roll.
Directed by Joe Carnahan (who wrote the screenplay with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers based on Jeffers’ short story “Ghost Walker”), the film stars Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale, Ben Bray, Anne Openshaw, and Peter Girges.
Set in Alaska, the film opens with narration from Neeson’s John Ottway – who makes his living protecting the oil workers by killing wolves. His narration (which is a letter he is writing to his wife) describes the kind of men that work this far from civilization and that he can’t do it anymore.
The film doesn’t waste much time on early character development moving directly to an incredibly shot plane crash that leaves Ottway and several other oil workers stranded. At first, the men plan to stay with the plane wreckage, but plans have to be changed when a pack of wolves attack.
Ottway quickly assumes command of the small group of survivors (even if his authority is challenged), and decides the best plan is to reach the trees where the group might have a better chance of defending themselves against the wolves. Once there, the group begins a slow trek through the wilderness as the wolves pick them off one by one.
In addition to the danger of the wolves, the group also has to deal with the extreme cold weather, the altitude, and the unforgiving terrain.
Carnahan keeps the film’s pace moving and never lets the audience take a breath from the tension on the screen. From the second the plane crashes, the audience is on the edge of their seats and Carnahan makes the most of the harsh conditions and the stealth of the wolves (which will cause you to jump more than once with their surprise attacks).
The survivors are pushed beyond their limits and Carnahan puts all the action directly in the audience’s face. The wolf attacks are brutal with a primal violence on full display. Director of photography Masanobu Takayanagi captures the wilderness surroundings and the violence so clearly the film takes on a documentary feel from time to time – which helps sell the story.
Although the pace and tension stay tight, the film does take enough time to let you care about the characters and let the actors make the most of their talents. Fireside chats put a full face and backstory on each of the characters – which makes their deaths more meaningful. This is an important aspect to giving the film more weight than a simple thriller that is easily forgettable as soon as it is over.
Neeson’s letter to his wife and quiet reflections provide a backstory to his character. Flashbacks also make you question just how strong his will to live might be. The talented actor carries the movie on his capable shoulders and seems more than a match for the wolves.
Although it is filled with talented actors, the true stars of the film are the wolves and the natural conditions that the survivors have to endure. The wolves are simply killing machines, but they also seem supernatural in their ability to stalk the survivors. The cold is a quiet killer that seems impossible to overcome – even for the strongest of the survivors.
The film looks incredible on Blu-ray with the format capturing every detail of the production, costuming (the survivors are forced to search the dead bodies for warm clothing) and the brutal/beautiful setting.
Filled with excellent performances and enough tension to make you jump several times, The Grey is an incredible thriller that will leave you talking about it long after the end credits finish.
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