Liam Neeson has become the one of the go-to guys for action films, with his roles in Batman Begins and Taken bringing him to broad public attention in this regard. He was about the only good part of The A-Team movie, and if he is in Battleship then perhaps it won’t be as stupid as it sounds in premise. I’d heard good things from the early screening of The Grey at BNAT, and from press screenings, but I tried to go in with cautious optimism to not have my hopes up too high.
Neeson plays John Ottaway, a hunter working for an oil company in the hostile Alaskan wilderness. Wolves are a very real threat for oil workers, and when they’re hungry or threatened, then they’re not shy about approaching people, so it’s John’s job to take them out before someone gets mauled or eaten. He’s very good at his job, and his skills come in handy pretty often.
When a group of men, including Ottaway, get some time off, they board a plane headed for Anchorage. But when the plane encounters some particularly nasty weather, it’s struck by harsh turbulence that is eventually just too much for the small craft. The plane goes down, and many aboard die in the crash or shortly thereafter from injuries sustained in the crash, with the handful of survivors still in mortal danger of cold exposure. And then the wolves show up.
The film has an odd pacing that really works for it, with slow stretches abruptly interrupted by intense action. Sometimes you see what’s coming, but even then it often doesn’t diminish its effect. Neeson’s character remains relatively calm and level-headed, but he’s surrounded by some immensely unpleasant and irrational people which alternate between funny and annoying, although it never gets to the point of making the film hard to watch.
I only have a couple of minor complaints about the film. The first is that, while the film is only lightly scored, there is at least one place in which I felt that a score was used when it would have been better without music so that only the natural sounds of the environment were audible. The music didn’t seem to tip off what was about to happen, but I felt that it was sometimes unnecessary and potentially distracting. A second gripe is that it seemed there were a number of “let’s get philosophical around the campfire” scenes that seemed to adversely impact the film’s pacing and seemed a little out of place for the kinds of roughnecks doing the deep thinking. It’s certainly the case that facing your own mortality may cause a significant change in your behavior, but it doesn’t seem as likely for an idiot to suddenly turn into a scholar or a poet.
The Grey seems to be among the rare set of films that is well regarded by about everyone I know. There are certainly varying degrees of affection, but I haven’t talked to anyone who disliked it.