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The Grey (A Movie Review)

The Grey

The Grey

THE GREY (2012)

Starring Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Joe Anderson, James Badge Dale, Nonso Anozie, Ben Hernandez Bray, James Badge Dale, Anne Openshaw, Peter Girges, Jonathan Bitonti, James Bitonti, Ella Kosor, Jacob Blair and Lani Gelera.

Screenplay by Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers.

Directed by Joe Carnahan.

Distributed by Open Road Films.  112 minutes.  Rated R.

It can’t be easy to be the newfangled, kick-ass, action figure Liam Neeson 2.0.  In the last few years, he has fought human traffickers, rained fire from the heavens, flew a tank (that was tricky), took on secret police sects and kicked the shit out of people who still insisted on remembering him as cerebral guys like Alfred Kinsey or Oskar Schindler.

The late career reinvention of Neeson has been a bit of a marvel to see.  It might not be completely good for his legacy as an actor, but it’s kept him busy and working and kept his bank account flush.  In fact, Neeson has stated that he threw himself into his work to fight his mourning for his late wife Natasha Richardson – you sure can’t begrudge the guy for that.

Ironically, Sir Laurence Olivier – who originated the character of the God Zeus that Neeson took over in the remake of Clash of the Titans – often stated in the latter stages of his career that an actor should take any role he was offered.  Make whatever money you can, Olivier reasoned, because you never know when you won’t be able to do it anymore.  And that doesn’t seem to have caused a huge problem for Olivier’s reputation as an actor.

So if Liam Neeson is now trying to be Sylvester Stallone, it’s his choice.

Of course, Neeson immediately has a huge advantage over Stallone, because he can actually act.  Neeson’s talent gives the sometimes (often?) one-dimensional characters he has been playing some gravity.

The Grey is Neeson’s uber-guy survival epic.  In the movie he has to survive a plane crash, extreme cold, vicious wolves, mountain terrain and dreams of his late wife.

The good news is, as this kind of film goes, The Grey is actually quite good.  It is rather smart, taut, dark, bare-bones filmmaking.  This is a little surprising, considering that it was written and directed by Joe Carnahan, who had previously made his name on spectacularly mindless shoot-em-up action spectacles like Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team.

Maybe The Grey is Carnahan’s penance for some of the past garbage he has foisted upon us.  If so, it is not completely successful, but it’s a definite step in the right direction.

The story is as simple as it is immediate.  A private plane carrying some oil workers crashes in the middle of the Arctic tundra.  There are less than ten survivors.  They are stuck in the midst of the snow with little shelter, almost no food and little in the way of clothes.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, they landed in the midst of territory of a pack of wild wolves, which are picking off the survivors one by one.  Therefore, they not only have to set out blindly looking for civilization, they have the added complication of not being sure if they are simply going to where the wolves are.

The final grouping of survivors is full of slightly generic action-movie types, but they are well-played and interesting enough that we do mostly care what becomes of them.

There is the smart (he reads!) and loving dad (Dermot Mulroney) who has to get back to his daughters.  There is the surprisingly strong chaplain (Dallas Roberts) who tries to keep the peace.  There is the anti-social New York thug (Frank Grillo) who fights authority the whole way around.  The rest are mostly common victims – the stoner, the token woman and black, the scared guy.

And of course Neeson, as Ottway, becomes the de facto leader because he is the only one who has survival skills or who knows anything about wolves.  Therefore, he should know that wolves almost never attack without provocation – but then again these are not supposed to be real wolves, they are supposed to be metaphors for the harsh dangers of life and death.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: January 23, 2012.

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