Lowdown: A suicidal man leads a group of airplane crash survivors through snow and angry wolves.
Liam Neeson continues his type cast journey through the potential options for the intellectual action hero in The Grey. This time around he’s an ex-soldier, divorced from his wife yet still unable to accept separation. His escape from the harshness of reality comes in the shape of working for an oil company that employs him at remote areas. His job? Protecting employees from the ravages of wolves.
Neeson’s character, Ottway, is pretty good at his job. It’s the rest of his life that’s in shambles, a point well made by him sticking his rifle in his mouth (but not daring to pull the trigger). Next thing we know he boards a plane together with many of his mates; alas, on their way back to civilization the plane crashes at a remote snowy area. Only a few survive the crash, Ottway amongst them.
In one of many challengeable decisions made by our Ottway during The Grey, he determines no one would find the plane before the survivors freeze or get eaten by a flock of annoying wolves. These are led by a particularly silly looking alpha (featuring props that seem to have come directly from The Never Ending Story). Thus the survivors go on an unexpected journey towards salvation, only that they don’t know where they really should be going and if there really is salvation to be found. The uncertainty causes much inner strife despite the immediate perils around, but as nature goes on killing men one by one Ottway’s leadership only solidifies. The guy that was about to kill himself is now the main source of hope for the stranded comrades.
On the face of it, The Grey’s is a survival story. Yet it is pretty clear the journey we are witnessing, Ottway’s, is one of religious nature. I started realizing this through the too frequent use of “Jesus Christ” as Ottway’s favourite form of bad mouthing. Then we hear him confess his agnostic views. However, the snowy/wolfy challenges that strike our hero one by one bring him to a critical point of desperation: Ottway looks up to the sky, begging for divine intervention. I was expecting this to be the lowest point of the movie; Hollywood has a tendency to come up with divine interventions to cheer the crowd up with. I am happy to report, though, that I was “disappointed”: after a brief wait where Ottway sits looking for the heavens’ reply, he pulls himself together, saying “Fuck it. I'll do it myself.” That's my boy!
It is rare for agnosticism to be as well served by Hollywood. Matters can thus be expanded: Ottway’s journey for survival is analogical to life in general. We are all surrounded by uncertainty, nasty elements, and people that seem bent on hurting us; we are all stranded in the snow for the duration of our lives, looking to make the most of the cards we’ve been dealt with.
On the face of it, The Grey makes an important statement through the guise of an action drama. I like the statement; what I did not like is the action drama part. I thought it was so badly done it totally disengaged me from Ottway & Co. The first post crash encounter with a wolf is portrayed so badly, shaking camera et al, I simply could not figure out what my TV was displaying on my behalf. Then there is the heroes' dubious decision making, the exaggerated personal deliberations that befit a TV series like Lost (seeking to span itself across as many seasons as possible) rather than a two hour movie. Throw in the leaps of logic (wolves show up and disappear rather too conveniently for the plot)… And you should understand why I was led to regard The Grey with contempt.
Interesting scene: The way The Gray chose to conclude its story. I will avoid details altogether, but I will say it is not the Hollywood conclusion we have been used to; there is no “closure” here. Sadly, The Gray’s innovative approach is somewhat hindered by a short scene coming at the very end of the credits.
Overall: I applaud what The Grey is trying to say, I just totally disliked the way the rest of the film was conducting itself. 2 out of 5 stars.