Lord of the… Wolves?: A Review of “The Grey”
by Mike Sliwinski
Going into this film, I knew almost nothing. The trailers I had seen had been at best vague. In reality, they actually turned my interest off of the film. I couldn’t help thinking of the litany of Liam Neeson films pitting him against difficult odds: Liam Neeson versus Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace, 1999), Liam Neeson versus international kidnappers (Taken, 2008), and now Liam Neeson versus… wolves. While I didn’t hate those films (Jar-Jar aside), I was concerned that Neeson, who is a capable actor, was going to be forced into a “bad-ass” niche.
This film didn’t exactly allay those fears. Neeson’s character blazes through the film defying medical science and rational behavior as he leads the victims of a plane crash. And yes, these victims, who were the hardened employees of an oil company once, were painfully archetypal, featuring tried and true staples like the “reasonable glasses guy”, the “crass macho guy hiding his fear”, and the “strong, quiet guy with a touching family history”. The film neglects to truly explore these characters, which not only appear flat but are simply uninteresting compared to Neeson’s character. They are believable, but too much so; the supporting cast is predictable and, as a result, somewhat boring.
Though there were negatives, the film also succeeded and even excelled in some aspects. The camera work was impressive and dynamic, with sweeping panoramas of mountains backed by particularly impressive shots of the wide skies and sweeping plains. The soundtrack was simple but effective, drawing the viewer in at quiet parts of the film and pairing nicely with the wolf attacks (which were enjoyably shocking, snarlingly gruesome, and genuinely frightening). Also on the list of positives is a subtle but gripping backstory to Neeson’s character, which is revealed not primarily through dialogue but through simple and poignant images.
To preserve the ending for readers, I’ll only touch briefly on the conclusion, and say that while my first reaction was disappointment, it seemed more and more appropriate as I thought of it. It was a good not great movie, with a solid plot and a capable cast. It suffered mostly where it compromised; instead of fully exploring the philosophical seeds it plants, it leans towards watery characters and an easily marketable tough-guy action feeling tailor-made for the “males age 18-35” audience. Nonetheless, it has moments that remind me of how the typical survival film can be more than that.
“Yes, I’ve read a poem, try not to faint.”: A Review of “The Grey”
By Josh Rosenfield
At the end of The Grey, that quote from Serenity was what immediately came to mind. I pictured this film as a guy who is desperately trying to convince people that he is more intelligent than he looks. “See, you guys? I can cite poetry and stuff! I’ve got metaphors and motifs! I’m not just an action movie, I’m not!” And while I’d normally be inclined to hate that sort of a movie, I’m actually okay with The Grey. Instead of resenting a shallow bid to appear “deep”, I appreciated what felt like an honest stab at making a smarter-than-average action thriller. Of course, this doesn’t entirely work, but I’m still happy that they tried.
As Mike stated, the supporting characters are painted very broadly. The main failure of the movie is the attempt to give these characters backstories and sympathetic characterizations. The movie just can’t seem to reconcile the boring archetypes with the intriguing backstories. Neeson’s character, however, is fascinating. I found everything involving his whole story to be totally engrossing. Director Joe Carnahan, who I ripped a few years ago for his awful adaptation of The A-Team, does an extraordinary job of telling us things using only visuals. At one point late in the film, Carnahan gives us a startling revelation (that, admittedly, doesn’t change the story a whole lot) that is communicated in a shot that couldn’t have lasted more than two seconds. It’s called visual storytelling, and more directors really need to learn what it is. The ending is going to cause a lot of discussion, and I have gone through no less than five distinct emotions towards it since the film ended. As I see it now, the ending was very bold, but the film didn’t earn it. A different movie with that ending would have been amazing, but not this movie.
I’m coming out a little more positive than Mike on The Grey, and I’ll admit to having a good time with it. The wolf attacks were very frightening. The first major scare prompted one man in the theater to jump higher than I have ever seen a fellow audience member jump. My main problem with this film is that it is really two films in one, and they don’t work together. One film is a terrifying and effective action thriller, and the other is a slow-paced philosophical film with lots of existential conversations about death and the occasional wolf attack. Either one of those films would have been fantastic. And The Grey, as it stands, is far from a failure. It just wasn’t perfect. And I’m okay with that.