Starring: Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo
Director: Joe Carnahan
Running Time: 117 mins
The Grey is an American film about a small group of oil workers who, after surviving a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, face an epic battle against the elements, all the while being hunted by a pack of merciless wolves.
This is an amazing film. The trailers, the premise, and Liam Neeson may lead you to believe that it’s just an action film about running away from wolves, but in reality, it’s something a whole lot more impressive. While there is thrilling and gruesome action throughout, The Grey triumphs with a powerfully pensive and restrained story revolving around well-written characters in an almost perfectly balanced film.
But before I get into that, let’s talk about the simpler side to The Grey. Following an intense plane crash sequence, the few survivors find themselves battling the elements in a deserted Arctic wasteland, only to realise that they are right in the middle of a pack of wolves’ hunting territory.
That sets up for a thrilling chase across the Arctic landscape as the wolves ruthlessly attack the survivors, constantly breathing down their necks in a fast-paced and hugely tense action story that dominates the first act of the film, but does a brilliant job at making it so entertaining.
Another reason that the wolves work so well as the main villain of the film early on is thanks to the stunning directing by Joe Carnahan. Not only is this a beautiful-looking film, with its spectacular settings and landscapes, but Carnahan does an incredible job to make such a vast and empty expanse feel incredibly claustrophobic.
Although not as effective at first, Carnahan’s style begins to work wonders as the characters become more and more weary fleeing the wolves. Above all in the sequences where the survivors set up makeshift camp, you feel immediately encircled by the evil beasts.
However, save for a few incredibly tense moments, we very rarely see the wolves themselves, and a lot of the film’s suspense and sense of danger is all mind tricks played by Carnahan. The camps’ surroundings are always shrouded in pure darkness or a sheet white blizzard, leaving only the growls of the wolves and the sound of their footsteps circling their prey to alert you of their presence, but in that, they’re all the more terrifying a villain, bringing much more of a psychological terror to the film than I expected.
And that’s where the other part of the story comes in. Whilst it’s entirely possible to enjoy this film as a simple battle for survival against nature, what impressed me so much about The Grey was its stunning dramatic depth. Building in confidence to delve deeper and deeper into the characters as the film goes on, this movie ultimately develops into a hardcore emotional drama above anything else.
Starting very strongly in its opening sequence with a sombre monologue from Liam Neeson, the film really gets into its stride by the time of the middle act. In tandem with the thrills of the wolf hunt, the moments where the characters sit down and discuss the true emotional effect of being on the edge of death for so long are spectacular to witness, thanks also to a brilliant screenplay that makes for some incredible dialogue throughout.
And come the final act, the film is a very quiet, contemplative and deep drama. Of course, the wolves and the intense battle for survival are still present, but there were moments in the final act where I was brought to the edge of tears such was their dramatic power. Two moments in particular (the two quietest, longest and most pensive of the entire film) still stand out sharply in my mind, simply because of the incredible depth and meaning they bring to the story and the characters through no more than a few lines of dialogue and some exceptional directing.
As fun and exciting as the thrill of the chase earlier on in the film is, the real reason to watch The Grey is for the unbelievable dramatic power and depth it brings to the table later on. Liam Neeson does a stunning job in the lead role to mix the action and dramatic genres seamlessly, and Joe Carnahan’s direction is sublime throughout, always making for an enthralling and deeply affecting watch, which is why I’m giving The Grey an 8.6 overall.