“They know we’re wounded…”
Those ill-omened words, spoken with characteristic gruff solemnity by Liam Neeson during a tense encounter with a hostile wolf pack, strike right to the anguished heart of director Joe Carnahan’s meaty, contemplative survival thriller The Grey. Deceptively marketed as a fist-pumping man vs. nature action flick on steroids, the film is, in all actuality, a grippingly bleak macho meditation on life, death, faith and redemption, dressed up in rugged genre picture attire. This movie doesn’t just entertain mightily; it cuts to the bone as harshly as a chilling blast from an oppressive Alaskan winter windstorm.
Leading the charge into the great, grim unknown is Neeson, as Ottway, a world-weary wolf sniper stationed at a remote Alaskan petroleum company outpost. Depressed and suicidal, finding comfort only in brief recollections of a beautiful brunette, he’s en route to liberation from his isolated refuge for “men unfit for mankind” when his passenger plane explosively crashes into the pitiless white wilderness. Stranded in the desolate, punishing environment with a small handful of fellow societal outcasts (including Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Nonso Anozie and an almost unrecognizable Dermot Mulroney), Ottway determinedly rallies everyone to push forward on a perilous, uncertain journey in search of safety. Unfortunately for the group, though, their fragile hopes for a speedy rescue are violently dashed when they draw the unwanted attention of a ravenous pack of timberwolves, who are none too happy to have strangers encroaching on their fiercely protected territory.
Vigorous, awesome and surprisingly poignant, Joe Carnahan’s latest is a smart, rewarding left of centre approach to material that, in clumsier hands, could have resulted in routine “When Animals Attack” b-movie filler. Just like its ferocious furry antagonists, The Grey grabs hold like a vice, and mercilessly shakes you to your very core. And it doesn’t let go.
4 out of 5
*Originally published at Converge Magazine.