The Grey, a movie that, if I recall correctly, was marketed in the UK as ‘Taken with wolves’, delivered a strikingly different cinematic experience to the one I was expecting. A tale of survival that I thought was going to be balls-out action from first to last, ended up in territory that was unforeseen and rather moving.
The star of the show in The Grey is Liam Neeson as Ottoway, an emotionally-scarred, yet extremely skilled oil worker. In a freak accident, a plane carrying Neeson and a team of drunken, rag-tag oil workers, crashes in the remote Alaskan snow during a heavy storm. Stranded, and with little by way of supplies, the survivors pit their wits against nature and the elements, and their outlook for survival becomes ever-increasingly bleak.
Firstly, thank you filmmakers for having Neeson as an Irish man. His American accent is terrible and a barrier for an emotional connection between the audience and his character. He really gets enveloped in Ottoway’s story and the subject matter is contextually relevant if you know his personal life; it’s very moving in that respect. Neeson’s chemistry with the rest of the cast is fantastic, and despite the movie having stereotypical, cardboard cutout characters, their respective arcs are mainly all defined and satisfying.
The cinematographer, Masanobu Takayanagi (Silver Linings Playbook, Warrior), has succeeded in making their plight look an impossible task to survive. It’s a very cold movie and the colour palettes of pastel blues, whites, greys and greens made the temperature jump out of the screen. There is also a grainy, noisy quality to the footage and had a definite ‘shot on film stock’ aesthetic which was interesting to look at. If this was shot digitally it would not have looked half as good. It is also edited together compellingly with an excellent execution of flashbacks and bumps back into reality. There are a number of set pieces that really worked and were handled exceptionally, especially a few of the deaths, one being particularly heartbreaking.
There is something about this story that really affected me, which maybe why I feel the way I do about the film. Last week I lost a family member, and The Grey asks some very existential questions about what it means to have the will to survive, the acceptance of death but also what is beyond our time on this planet; ‘Does it wash over you, death?’ is one of the lines in a script that, for the most part, delivers some great ideas to take away from the movie. You have to engage your brain as well as your heart during this film, which was completely unexpected. There is also the consideration of what it means to be ‘manly’ running throughout the narrative, with one particular character arc a direct correlation of this theme.
It’s not, however, without its ropiness; the script was a somewhat cliched at points, and it does dawdle into action movie territory in the second and third acts, but this was not for a prolonged period. The CGI wolves were hit-and-miss, but again, it didn’t detract from the story or make the emotional connection with the characters any less powerful.
The Grey asks many different questions of its audience and is a movie that will stay with you beyond its runtime. It was an entirely different experience to the one I was expecting, and I am annoyed I turned my nose up at it when it was in theatres because it would have looked stunning.