In the last few years, Liam Neeson has made a habit of starring in films where he plays enigmatic characters that are, simply put, awesome. Whether it’s saving his daughter from human traffickers (like in Taken) or figuring out who he is after suffering amnesia and stopping a nefarious assassination plot (as in Unknown), Neeson has delivered the goods. In The Grey, Nesson plays Ottway, a sniper hired to protect a drilling team from the wildlife (specifically wolves) in the far reaches of Alaska. How did Ottway become a sniper that could shoot a running wolf at a hundred yards? I have no clue, but it’s Liam Neeson, and we can accept that he is able to do that, because we accept that Liam Neeson is exceptional in every way, mostly because he is. However, the ability to simply accept that Neeson is awesome is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, the film doesn’t need to spend time creating a back-story for our hero, thus giving us more time for action; on the other hand, we never really come to accept Ottway as a real character, more as a placeholder for the guy who is going to take charge when things go bad. And things go real bad for everybody.
The crux of The Grey’s story revolves around a group of oil workers who survive a plane crash, only to be hunted by a pack of wolves. While it’s never brought up, I suspect that this wolf pack may have been genetically altered in some science experiment gone wrong. They reminded me of the sharks in Deep Blue Sea, in that at times they are obviously not real wolves (i.e. there are moments where it is painfully obvious that the wolf is CGI), they seem incredibly too smart, and are just a bunch of jerks. When our human protagonists stop to rest and hopefully get some sleep, these wolves can’t help but to torment the survivors by standing just far enough away from the fire so that only their eyes are visible, letting them know that they could eat every last one of them any time they wanted. Said wolves aren’t merely hunting these guys, they’re having fun messing with them. All of this makes for some pretty intense scenes, but the weight of these scenes are somewhat diminished because none of the characters really stand out, and when one of them does finally succumb to the wolves, or nature, the emotional impact sounds like loud indifference.
The Grey is okay. It’s not good enough to seek out in theaters, but it’s not bad enough to walk out on or turn off if it happened to be on TV. I quite enjoyed the clash between the survivors had with the wolves, and would have liked to have seen that conflict explored more. As it is, the movie really wanted to focus on how these men were going to survive the harsh Alaskan wilderness, but even with that, the movie doesn’t really commit to exploring man’s insatiable nature to survive, or exploring anything for that matter. The characters are flat, though Neeson does a good job at doing his best Liam Neeson impression. The best parts of The Grey are tense moments between the men and the wolves, but these good moments are undercut by the shallowness of the characters and the story.
Director Joe Carnahan
Starring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, and Frank Grillo
Movie times for Salt Lake City are here