In many post-apocalyptic, sci-fi films such as Mad Max, The Road, and Resident Evil, the main characters are in search of some area of normalcy – far from the chaotic conditions of violence and starvation. Some head south where there is warm weather and less radiation, some head to the shoreline, and some may just stay put in their claustrophobic bunker. Where would you go during the post-apocalypse? With my knapsack full of hopefully-useful items such as a crank flashlight, bow & arrow, iodide pills, my most valuable article would be a star map that shows the address of one particular actor – Liam Neeson. He is the only person in the world that could protect me and help me survive. Who else can fight off hordes of Nazis, zombies, cannibals, aliens, slave traders, evil robots, and trigger-happy soldiers? No one else…except Liam Neeson. Don’t be fooled by all of his interviews with the press when he says he’s not heroic nor tough as his movie characters. He’s not fooling anyone – that’s just modesty talking. I’m going to stay close to his shadow during any potential post-apocalyptic event!
In Joe Carnahan’s new film, The Grey, Neeson plays John Ottway – a wolf hunter who leads a group of oil rig workers through the dangerous and cold Alaskan wilderness. After their airplane crashes on the way back to Anchorage, the survivors must find their way back to civilization. With Ottway taking the lead, the group faces the biggest challenges that nature can offer – freezing cold, lack of food and supplies, and vicious wolves. The movie is basically Neeson versus nature, but The Grey is much more unique than you think.
A survival film is not going to work if we don’t care if the main character lives or dies. Carnahan is wise to make sure that we root for Liam Neeson’s character from the first few frames of the film. Ottway is a sad person and teases with suicide at the beginning of The Grey. In brief flashbacks, Carnahan makes it clear that Ottway misses his dead girlfriend/wife/lover. The quick flashbacks of his lost love remind us of Neeson’s real-life loss of his wife Natasha Richardson. We feel bad for Neeson for his loss, thus feeling sympathy for his character in The Grey. As disturbed as Ottway may be, he’s the only character that really fights for everyone’s survival, including his own. He takes the burden of being the one in charge to fight for everyone’s life. As certain characters die in the film, due to wolf attacks or cold weather, a piece of Ottway dies too. We may not particularly care if other characters die, but every time a person does die, we feel sorry for Ottway for his failure to protect that victim.
Joe Carnahan is a much better director when he sticks to dark, R-rated films. A-Team and Smokin’ Aces may be entertaining but they are both forgettable live-action cartoons. Narc and The Grey are films that he should really be proud of – dark, disturbing, memorable and exciting films that are full of impressive performances from his leads.
The Grey is also a great wolf film. After years of seeing films about wolves (Dances with Wolves, Never Cry Wolf, Frozen), I still enjoy the mystery of whether or not wolves aggressively attack humans. Just as humans can be peaceful creatures, humans can be a murderous unpredictable bunch too. I like how wolf packs in film can either be sweet, shy puppies in one film, and ferocious beasts in another. We read about wolves staying away from people and rarely attacking, but I get a kick out of seeing every other wolf movie showing them as extremely dangerous animals. Even in The Grey, one of the characters asks, “I thought that wolves only ate plants and didn’t attack humans?” Once Ottway the wolf expert quickly rebukes that idea, we know that the airplane-crash survivors are now going to get screwed not only by dangerous weather conditions but also by angry wolves!
Liam Neeson has been involved in action movies (Excalibur, Darkman, Rob Roy, The Phantom Menace, Batman Begins) for over 30 years, but he has not been given a proper action-movie vehicle that has taken advantage of his full potential until 2008’s Taken and now The Grey.
With a towering presence at 6’4’’ and a gruff voice one does not ignore, this Irishman is a force of nature not to mess with. What makes Liam Neeson different from other action heroes is that he doesn’t really need to be paired with anyone or anything to be bad-ass. If you take away all the elements in a movie such as sets and actors, he could still create an exciting action movie. Think about Ryan Reynolds’ film Buried, where he’s buried throughout the duration of the film – now that would have been more exciting had they cast Liam Neeson. Action stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jackie Chan are awesome too, but their magic only works when they can bounce their skills off other actors. Take those away from them, and they won’t be that interesting anymore. Put Neeson in an empty room for an hour and half, and he still wouldn’t bore anyone. Better yet, have a movie with the movie screen totally dark and all you hear is Neeson reading a shopping list – the movie could still be exciting.
Besides the rare factor of having a middle-aged action hero nowadays as it was the norm before the 1990s (since Hollywood recently loves to market young up-and-coming studs as action heroes), there aren’t too many current headlining actors that can pull off convincing rage. When I watch Liam Neeson, I look forward to watching his anger build up until he explodes like the Incredible Hulk. In the past few decades, how many actors can express anger in such a compelling way? I can’t think of too many off the top of my head besides Christian Bale, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Harrison Ford, Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, and Daniel-Day Lewis. There are a lot of likable movie stars that headline action movies, but many of them just lack that extra intensity (for example, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Bruce Willis, or Jason Statham).
Universal’s 1080p 2.40:1 video quality is a visual experience and is a breathtaking treat! Nature movies are usually a pleasure to watch on Blu-ray because the film’s outdoor scenes really showcase how bright and stunning high definition can look. Don’t be thrown off by the stylish use of grain – that’s exactly how the director intended The Grey to look. The winter cinematography is truly given life. Everything is sharp and nicely detailed, and colors are well-defined. Shadow and black levels are satisfying as well. I read that some of the wolves were CGI, but I couldn’t tell even in high definition – these wolves looked mean, vicious, and real!
The English DTS-HD 5.1 is a reference audio mix that made me feel like I was experiencing a 4D film. The sounds consistently creep into your ears and work all the way into your stomach. The track often uses the surrounds, featuring a wide dynamic range and excellent directional effects. Besides dialogue being totally easy to understand, this audio mix is literally scary! I can’t think of a more nerve-wracking mix than The Grey this year. This movie can give one a heart attack – the sound mix of scenes including airplane turbulence, an airplane crash, wolf attacks, howling wolves, wind, blizzard, and rapid water feel real. Do not think you can watch The Grey comfortably without physically feeling sick (in a good way).
English Dolby Digital 2.0 and English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The extras are a bit disappointing. When I see nature movies on video, I expect to see at least one documentary of the filmmakers and actors on location. After listening to the commentary with co-writer/director Joe Carnahan and editors Roger Barton and Jason Hellmann, the actors and filmmakers went through a bit of hell just like the characters in the movie. I would have loved to see these actors suffering in the freezing cold, but we just have to take their word that filming was tough.
Six deleted scenes were also included. Only one should have stayed in the film, which was a pretty damn intense scene of the survivors trying to light a fire.
- deleted scenes
The Grey is an awesome man-versus-nature film! If you want to experience a nauseating airplane crash (one of the best filmed airplane crashes too by the way) and feel the dread of freezing weather and dangerous wolves, check out The Grey. You’ll feel good at the end of the movie once you realize you are in your warm house and close to civilization. The Blu-ray looks stunning and sounds incredible – I highly recommend this first terrific film of 2012!