“The Grey” is being deceivingly marketed as a tense action thriller starring Liam Neeson. Instead, it is an overbearingly grim and brutally tragic tale about losing hope and faith in the Alaskan wilderness.
Based on the short story “Ghost Walker” by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers (who co-wrote the screenplay with director Joe Carnahan), the movie stars Neeson as Ottway, who works as a wolf killer in the bleak Alaskan oil fields.
Ottway is a broken and suicide-prone figure whose unnamed lover has left him. While en route to Anchorage, the plane he is on crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, leaving Ottway and a band of survivors to fend off the cold and a pack of wolves.
The film quickly establishes that it is not a PG-13 thriller with a message of hope and survival. Carnahan showcases intense close-ups of the carnage and wreckage of the plane, and the film is full of coarse language.
While the violence is grisly, particular praise must be attributed to cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, whose shots of the snow and nature are authentic and beautiful.
Neeson is great as usual in the film star, recently reemerging as an older action star after successes such as “Taken” (2008) and “Unknown” (2010). The rest of the cast consists of relative unknown names (besides Dermot Mulroney, “J. Edgar,” “The Family Stone”). But the smaller stars deserve props for their acting, which comes off as realistic and resists falling into the cliché of character types.
The wolves in “Grey” are depicted as vicious man-eaters and hunters, which deflates the realism that Carnahan is trying to go for in telling this story. (It doesn’t help that they are CGI as well).
While the acting and cinematography are strong, the unrelentingly ugly mood of the movie and the unfair characterization of wolves as villains bring the movie down.