Having taken out most of Europe, Liam Neeson has wolves in his target sights.
A modern-day Deliverance, Joe Carnahan’s film The Grey is the latest entry into the genre of Survivalist Drama. Incorporating spectacular scenery and adrenalin-pumping action sequences, this is what the casual observer would identify as being a prime product of Hollywood high concept mainstream filmmaking. Scratch the surface though and evidence suggests that there is something different present.
An expert marksman with a rifle, John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is employed by an oil facility in the remote Alaskan wilderness. Ottway’s job is to protect the workers of the facility while working in the wild, but of more concern is that he is a loner with suicidal thoughts. At the end of his tenure, Ottway boards a plane with a team of workers to fly back to Anchorage. While passing through a storm there is an accident, and the plane crashes. Ottway is one of seven survivors of the plane disaster. While scouting the crash site he is attacked by a breed of wolf known as The Grey. Ottway soon realises that the plane has crashed into The Grey’s territorial hunting ground. He informs the surviving men of this dangerous situation and that they need to leave the crash site or they will be killed by the wolves. The survivors heed Ottway’s advice and reluctantly follow his lead. They begin their trek and head deep into the remote Alaskan wilderness, meanwhile the carnivorous wolves begin their hunt, and the remaining survivors are their prey.
Director Joe Carnahan, whose previous films include 2002’s Narc, 2006’s Smokin Aces, and more recently 2010’s The A Team, is well versed in genre filmmaking. With The Grey being his first foray into survivalist action he takes the viewing experience a step further that results in not only an exciting film, but arguably genre development. Once again teaming up with A-Team lead Liam Neeson, Carnahan surrounds his leading man with a strong supporting cast. Besides the ever reliable Neeson as John Ottway, present in the film are standout performances from Frank Grillo as Diaz, Dermont Mulroney as Talgat, and former L Word cast member Dallas Roberts as Hendrick.
Unlike other films of its kind, The Grey does not use its cast as fodder only for the pervading danger. It makes use of its characters to drive the emotional response of the viewer. While the wolves pursue the survivors, we learn pieces of information from each of the men increasing our concern, and producing an active involvement with the narrative of the film. This is one of the reasons The Grey is such refreshing experience. Set pieces are placed in the script as avenues for each one of these characters to bare his soul meanwhile allowing the viewers to reflect and think. Amongst the many examples of this we discover Diaz and Ottways shared atheism. We also sympathise with the longing of Talget’s pain as he fights to return to his daughter, and we observe humane principles that drive Hendrick in his actions. By the time the film finishes these characters become people.
In his decision to consciously engage the viewer with his film, Joe Carnahans’ The Grey addresses issues such as the role of masculinity, the impact of faith in people’s lives, and the strength driven from families. These are issues addressed amongst many others, as we are just scratching the surface of a multi-layered viewing experience. A high concept film on the surface it is what the viewer is prepared to input and give that makes the film such a rewarding experience. As with any film a viewer should dig deeper when the opportunity arises, and think about what is taking place and being said. Be prepared to invest in a film such as The Grey and that’s where the real awards are waiting.
The Grey has been identified as one of the most complex and rewarding films to be released in the last eighteen months. This is definitely a genre changer and by rights should become one of the sign posts of genre development in the history of film. This I know is a big call and whether it is rewarded in this way time will tell, but my view is that over time this will be a film that will be returned to and discussed such as Deliverance is today. Lifted from Ian Mackenzie Jeffers novella Ghost Walker, the author wrote the screenplay with director Joe Carnahan. While this is a high concept film, and an example of what draws people to the cinema today, the real reward is thinking about what you have seen long after the light has come on and the popcorn been left on the floor.
This was reviewed on a Blu-ray test copy. There was no problems observed and the transfer was fine. The film is set in a very cold snow and ice environment with the colours used complementing these surroundings, for example Ottway wears a grey cream beanie and jacket. This was done deliberately to reflect the cold environment. A single disc with special features that include several brief features. These are The Extreme, Into the Fray and Man vs. Nature. A forewarning though, there is one last brief scene in the final films credits. Personally, if you are happy with the last scene presented when the film credits start to roll, that’s the time to finish the film because I thought this added scene spoiled a great ending.