Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: The Grey

Just got back from The Grey. I really dug it, but be warned - it is not all about wolf-punching. It is not merely a man against nature story. This is well-written, well-paced thriller that is more about the people involved in the story than what they actually do.

Equal part character study and survival film, The Grey follows the surviving members of an oil drilling group in Alaska left alive after a sudden plane crash. Ottway (Liam Neeson) quickly emerges as the leader of the group. With hope for a rescue slim, their only chance for survival is to gather up as many supplies as they can and try to get back to civilization.  A bad situation naturally turns worse when the group of wolves begins stalking the survivors.

The wolves are terrifying. They are a constant threat and source of tension throughout the story. Even if they are not actively going after our characters, we know they are close by, and we never know where they are going to come from or how they will attack. The harsh conditions of the Alaskan wilderness are equally monstrous. The roaring winds and the immense, bleak landscape beg for this to be seen on a big screen - your living room simply will not do it justice.

The thriller aspects all work, but it's the human moments and the characterization that really make The Grey shine. We are literally dropped into this horrific situation with these characters less than 10 minutes into the film. Our first significant meeting of the cast occurs only after the plane crash, as the survivors are painfully trying to get their bearings and figure out what to do next. If trials allow us to see the real person underneath all of the bullshit, I can't think of anything more trying than being stranded in the Alaskan wild, post plane crash. We don't have any sort of a backstory to go on with any of these men, but we still know exactly who they are.

The actors were all great - frankly, they had to be. The only way for this story to be carried off was for everyone in that cast to know exactly who they were playing. It would have been so easy for this to turn into one of Michael Bay's casts, where dudes just show up and read their lines, resulting in a boring-ass movie. But there is some great talent in this group, and they were able to handle the subtleties of the script and turn in very nuanced performances. You are inside their heads without even knowing how you got there.

Joe Carnahan's direction is spot on - with both the story of the characters and the story of their ordeal.  Each aspect of the film enhances the other beautifully. He interweaves very tense, suspenseful scenes with sudden moments of shock, and stripped-down moments of pure humanity. It really lends a balance to the story, and each individual aspect is stronger for it. 

This isn't a film where you get to know your characters and then watch what life throws at them. It's about
getting to know the REAL them once the situation is already upon them - and The Grey does it very well.

...Once more into the fray...

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