« Haywire | Main | Albert Nobbs »

January 23, 2012

The Grey



Chaotic Nature
Joe Carnahan Explores the Minds of the Walking Wounded
By Cole Smithey

Grey_PosterA strand of “Moby Dick” runs through director/co-writer Joe Carnahan’s wild and wooly tale of survival in the Alaskan wilderness. Like “Moby Dick” this amorphous story is an anti-narrative made up of dark encounters with nature at her cruelest. The alpha male leader of a pack of hungry wolves becomes the focal point for a group of plane-crash survivors trying to walk out of a vast snow-covered trap. John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is an emotionally broken sharpshooter hired by an Alaskan oil company to protect its workers from bears and wolves, which attack without a moment’s notice. The ever-watchable Neeson easily fills the demands of his troubled character’s wolf-like place as the alpha to a group of flawed human males—whose number steadily diminishes.

Joe Carnahan (known for his uncompromising crime drama “Narc”) puts his audience through an episode of pure terror early in the film. After briefly contemplating suicide outside a rowdy oil refinery bar, John Ottway treasures memories of his eloigned wife while riding a private airplane carrying oil workers. Jolts of vomit-inducing turbulence rattle the passengers’ quickly fraying nerves. Just as Ottway falls asleep the plane goes into a fuselage-ripping plunge. Gravity and velocity become monsters of colossal fury. Luggage and bodies are suspended in midair in one of the most spectacular plane crash scenes ever filmed. The effect is truly terrifying. Don’t look for “The Grey” to be shown as an in-flight movie. The cinematic experience is as close to the reality of enduring an actual plane crash as you’d ever want to get. Miraculously there are survivors amid the strewn luggage, twisted bits of metal, and bloody body parts which corrupt an otherwise peaceful expanse of snow-covered ground. Awakening from one nightmare into another, eight shocked men begin to pick up items of clothing and supplies they desperately need to go on living. Ottway thinks to collect the wallets of the corpses, to return to their family members should the opportunity arise.

The assembly of blue-collar roughnecks runs the gambit. Diaz (Frank Grillo) is a tattooed ex-con whose personal insecurities threaten to undermine Ottway’s obvious status as the group leader. Ottway’s uses his thorough knowledge of wolf pack mentality and behavior to counsel the group to quickly abandon the crash site in favor of shelter above the area’s distant tree line. The wolves, Ottway believes, are more interested in protecting their territory than hunting down the men as food. Stormy whiteout conditions threaten to bury the men in a 40-below-zero grave of snow.

Violent encounters between the wolves and their human prey allows Carnahan to dig deep into his bag of action tricks. Blood flies through the air like freezing mists of tempered humidity. The confident helmer displays a greater kinship to Sam Peckinpah’s muscular approach to cinema than any other filmmaker working today. Every gutsy action scene is crafted with gritty detail and a muscular unpredictability that dares the audience to guess where it will end up. Punch-drunk suspense sets in as the film’s subtext of thematic discourse about subjects ranging from self-deception to religious belief to what it takes to be a man get bandied about. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (“Warrior”) lends his keen eye for magnificent compositions to expertly contextualize the men’s excruciating journey of inexorable attrition.

“The Grey” is an old-fashioned survival movie in the vein of John Huston’s 1956 version of the Melville classic. The glory of the adventure comes from what lies buried deep within the psyches of its personalities, and branded in their facial expressions. John Ottway remembers the only poem his stoic father ever wrote as it hung framed on a wall in his dad’s study.

“Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.”

Watch this movie to discern the poem’s meaning for the wealth of import Carnahan and his filmmaking cohorts intend.

Rated R. 117 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

 

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c2b7953ef0168e5f24910970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Grey:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Video

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday