For all the credit we give Mother Nature for beautiful landscapes, stunning vistas, and beach weather, it’s her evil side that gives us the terrifying backdrop of The Grey. You could see this movie outdoors on an 90-degree day in Hawaii, and you would still find yourself reaching for a couple blankets, a thick pair of snow boots, and a wool cap. And you may well want to hide under them.
Filmed entirely during a particularly nasty series of snowstorms in British Columbia, The Grey tells the story of a Liam Neeson-led of roughneck oil riggers who find themselves stranded in winter hell (to call it ‘the middle of nowhere’ would be kind), facing wolves, starvation, and all manner of other things that would send Bear Grylls running home to mommy.
It’s bone-chilling, fierce, and, at the end of the day, an ultimately satisfying movie that will help lift you from the tedium of January at the cineplex.
Neeson, who has arguably never better than he is here, is a sniper charged with protecting the refinery workers from all manner of four-legged menaces, particularly wolves. The job, the weather, and the fact that he’s lost his wife are pushing him over the edge, though– to the point where he eventually puts his rifle in his mouth and is this close to ending it all.
Then after the devastating plane crash (among the most intense ever put on film), he quickly switches to survive-at-all-costs mode, working to save himself and the handful of other men who made it.
Director Joe Carnahan (reteaming with Neeson after 2010’s The A-Team) has put together a man vs. nature movie to remember. The weather is absolutely fierce, but the wildlife is even worse. A pack of wolves is most often seen as glowing eyes in the dark or puffs of warm breath on the frigid air, and though the echoed howls become borderline tedious at times, the unbridled fear you’ll feel is very real.
Carnahan wrote the script with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (based on Jeffers’ short story Ghost Walker), and it’s an excellent departure from the standard survival story. Each of the men has his own distinct, well-crafted personality, and along with the fierce fight scenes, there are a handful of just-as-powerful quieter moments, giving us even more insight into each man.
Neeson, who seems to be getting more intense with age, pilots the ship here with the same reckless abandon he’s shown in prior films like Taken and Unknown; he may have a 60-year-old body, but he’s not letting it slow him down at all. And the supporting cast, including Dermot Mulroney and Dallas Roberts, have no problem keeping up with him, turning in high-level performances themselves.
The Grey isn’t a great movie to warm you up on a chilly winter’s night, but it’s a great movie all the same, showing you how much of a ‘mother’ Mother Nature can be.
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@popcollin is the resident movie critic at Essex Cinemas in Essex, VT, and Cumberland 12 in Plattsburgh, NY.