“Maybe I’ll turn into a wolfman now.” “Wait… That ****’s not real, right?”
The Scoop: 2011 R, directed by Joe Carnahan and starring Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, and Nonso Anozie
Tagline: Live or Die on This Day
Summary Capsule: A small group of men survive plane crash in snowy hell only to be stalked by a pack of wolves.
Eunice’s rating: It’s nice to see the panther/wolf thing from The Neverending Story getting work these days.
Eunice’s review: The Grey is in a family of movies I call “Watch horrible things happen to people out in a frozen middle of nowhere.” Admittedly a long name, but there you have it.
Liam Neeson is Ottway. Up in northern Alaska, he’s being paid by an oil company to kill wolves to protect the sites and workers where the oil rigs are at. At the beginning of the movie he narrates a letter he’s writing to his dead wife, and he’s in a very dark place.
He and about (I’d guess) fifty workers are flying back after putting in their stint. While everyone else is excited and talking, Ottway continues his letter and it’s apparent he’s a loner and not particularly liked by anyone. During the flight, the men go to sleep and we can see that things are going bad real fast with the plane.
Let me insert here, that I received my copy of The Grey in the mail before taking a trip, but didn’t have time to watch it. Being the first movie I’ve watched since getting back I’m so glad that’s how it worked out (especially considering that on the first of my connections on the way back the pilot informed us that the electrical backup was down and they would be directing power from other places so “please don’t panic if the lights go out or you notice minor technical failures” AFTER WE WERE IN THE AIR!). Because that crash is the scariest thing in the movie. The immediate aftermath/survivor’s shock is the second scariest. Like *shivers*
Anyway, Ottway and seven other survivors figure that if they just stay with the wreckage, eventually the company will send help. Unfortunately the smell of blood and death draws out a pack of wolves. You see where this is going right? So after much fighting and bickering the men leave the plane and make for the forest looking for cover and trying to get out of the wolves’ territory. The rest of the movie is pretty much going down the list of every conceivable horrific way to die/watch someone die in snow you can think of.
While I always pull for the characters to survive in these movies, I was a little conflicted about them. They’re all outcasts, running from something, or desperate for the kind of money only such an extreme job can bring, but, with the exception of Ottway, the characters aren’t really defined. There’s a parallel made between Ottway and the Alpha wolf (totally has to be based on Gmork), and just like the other wolves are just the Other Wolves, the other dudes are the Other Dudes. Not to say that they don’t have any good scenes, but it’s pretty much one real scene per character, and that’s how you know who’s going to die next.
But what it lacks in characterization, it more than makes up for in visuals, ideas, and horrificness.
I’ve already mentioned the plane crash. I’d also highlight the first time they show the wolves’ eyes reflecting the firelight, or how even though you can’t see them in the dark, you can see the steam from them breathing and just how many of them must be out there. Every time Ottway sees his wife is touchingly cool. There’s a whole theme of dead loved ones guiding them through death that’s interesting. The scene where you get to see inside the wallets is surprisingly sad. I’ve never seen a movie so able to convey how incredibly cold it must be. And every death is more terrible than the last, which in this sort of movie you’re kinda going for.
There are some things that really bugged me. They’ve been working in the same place out in the middle of nowhere for however long, but nobody seems to actually know each other (like how you’d expect them to act if they’d crashed on the way to the job). I’m pretty sure no one is wearing gloves, and am totally sure no one wears a mask, but no one suffers from frostbite. Nobody gets snow blindness. Why is it so hard to light fuel? There are some weird as-the-script-dictates blood/injury physics going on. There were a couple of other problems I had, but they dip into the spoiler zone. Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed if I’d been more invested in the characters, but it bothered me.
I can’t really blame the actors. Liam Neeson is great of course. I promise you will find yourself playing the You Know, That Guy game as the other actors pull their weight as much as they can with their small scenes. I genuinely felt bad for all the characters and were pulling for them to make it (even Diaz after he stops being such a jerk).
The Grey is so not a feel-good movie. It’s bleak. Beginning to end, there is not one shred of hope. And while I liked the movie, I was extremely frustrated by the ending. But if you like survival movies it is completely worth a watch.
Justin’s rating: But where are the 49 other shades of this movie?
Justin’s review: Like probably a lot of people, I once nurtured a dream of moving to Alaska, the final frontier. The wildness, the space, the mountains, and the remote beauty of it all held strong appeal. But then I took a cruise with my wife up there, and during this trip I gently disillusioned myself with a few harsh facts, such as the insane mosquito population, the wonky day/night cycles, and maybe there’s something as too remote for my liking.
Just in case I was holding on to any lingering desires in that direction, The Grey pretty much shot them down. This movie is a dash of cold water that puts Alaska’s harsh landscape — and wildlife — on fierce display. It’s not here to convince you to move to that state that gets shoved to the corner of every U.S. map; it’s here to share with you all of the ways that you’ll die if you attempt it.
In fact, way number one is a horrific plane crash that scuttles an aircraft carrying a group of oil workers back to Anchorage. Only a handful of men survive, if survive you can call being stranded hundreds of miles away from civilization and hunted by a wolf pack with a taste for human flesh.
This is, strangely enough, the perfect therapy session for John Ottway (Liam Neeson), a wolf sniper who starts the movie so depressed over his life that he was about to take it. Now, he’s given a purpose and a mission: To see himself and the survivors to safety. If you squint and ignore all of the death that comes swiftly and horribly to most of these people, it’s kind of like he’s the scout leader at camp dispensing vital trail wisdom along the way.
Now, I think that John was completely idiotic and wrong to insist that the survivors march away from the airplane wreckage based on the assumption that nobody would look for them and that they were sitting ducks without any food. Everything that follows highlights how dumb this move was, especially how vulnerable the dwindling group becomes in the ensuing days. They had shelter, they could’ve barricaded themselves, but nooooo… it’s time to go be wolf chow based on Mr. Taken’s advice.
I’ll admit up front that I’m not the best candidate for this kind of brutal survival film. It’s the sort of intense story that twists my guts up and makes me wish that the end credits would get here, already. But I cannot deny that the cinematography is absolutely stunning and that the situation here is a compelling scenario to prompt some intense introspection into life, death, bravery, and a greater purpose behind it all.
This isn’t a fun movie. Arresting, yes, in a horrifying and occasionally insightful way. Whether The Grey is worth seeing is up to whether or not you’ll get something positive out of it. Maybe it’s a glimpse of hope, of self-reliance, or of God along the way. Maybe you just like seeing Liam Neeson taking charge in his steely, competent fashion.
All I know is that if I’m going to take a flight over Alaska, I’m bringing me a few XL cans of anti-wolf spray.
- Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? There’s a very, very short scene after the credits.
- Based on Ian Mackenzie Jeffers’ short story “Ghost Walker”.
Ottway: It’s good. It’s good that it hurts.
Flannery: It’s good?
Ottway: It’s good, yeah.
Flannery: Oh, well, then I’m ******* fabulous.
Ottway: Who do you love? Let them take you.
Ottway: Maybe I’ll turn into a wolfman now.
Flannery: Wait… That ****’s not real, right? I mean you can’t.
Diaz: *******, what do you think? Really?!
Flannery: I don’t know, man, maybe like rabies or whatever. I didn’t think the ************ was gonna grow claws and teeth and ****!
Ottway’s Wife: Don’t be afraid.
Poem: Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day… Live and die on this day…
If you liked this movie, try these:
- The Edge