Review in a Hurry: After their plane crashes in a frozen Alaskan wilderness, Liam Neeson and seven other men must work together to bear the cold and...a pack of angry wolves! A better than average survivalist flick, The Grey succeeds with taught direction, strong pacing and the fact that Neeson is one man you do not want to mess with. Seriously, he will take you out with his bare hands.
The Bigger Picture: Ottway (Neeson) has an unusual job. Unlike the rest of his fellow oil riggers who work 5 days a week, day and night for 6 months straight drilling the frozen tundra of Alaska, his real occupation is as a sharpshooter. You see, a pack of nasty overgrown wolves keep invading the camp. With his world-weary eyes he locks on to the targets and takes them down one by one. So when that plane goes down and Ottway is onboard, it's a really good
Now, ever since Taken, Liam Neeson has morphed into kind of like an older, brainier Jason Statham, and at 59, he's become a real badass. He can brawl with man and beast!
The tried and true small-group-of-strangers-stuck-together-to-weather-something-dangerous angle works here. A storm, a shape-shifting "thing," these films are generally a sausage fest (the exception being the exceptional all gal cast for The Descent) and that's the case here. Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend's Wedding) has a small role as one of the roughnecks, almost unrecognizable under all that artic gear. Frank Gillo (Warrior) plays the expected wild card that refuses to play by Ottway's rules. And then there are the wolves that even though they look really CG manage to ratchet up the fear factor.
Another thing: Those wolves aren't at all hungry. Ottway and the boys have crashed near the wolves' den, so when the pack attacks it's not about food. It's about sending a message.
The rest of the story is rather straightforward, but director Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) keeps things unbelievably tense. Everyone looks tired, hungry, and above all, scared. As the crew's numbers dwindle the scenes become more claustrophobic. Beyond the suspense, there's a matter-of-factness to all the death and dying that's genuinely unsettling.
Keeping things grounded is Neeson. He even gets to pontificate about man versus nature, sounding like a rage-filled Jack London. Silly? A bit but we're not gonna tell Neeson that.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Stories like this are all about keeping the audience just as isolated as the characters. Which means the use of flashbacks—to Ottway's sunnier days—lessens the tension.