In recent years Liam Neeson has become a bona fide action star.
It all started with the Luc Besson produced Taken (2008), in which he portrayed a retired CIA agent who heads to Paris to save his kidnapped teenage daughter (a yet to be titled sequel to Taken will also be released this year). Since the release of Taken, Neeson has also also starred in Clash of the Titans (2010) as Zeus (and will appear in the sequel, Wrath of the Titans (2012)), the action adventure The A-Team (2010) and the action thriller Unknown (2011).
The Grey (2012) however, is not an action film.
Directed by Joe Carnahan, The Grey rises above what could have been run of the mill action flick.
The Grey opens with a stark image of a dead eyed Ottway (Liam Neeson) surrounded by the harsh winter landscape. He kneels in the snow and without any hesitation, places the barrel of a gun in his mouth.
In the distance, a lone wolf watches over him.
Ottway is no hero. He has recently lost his wife and appears to have thrown himself back into work as a way of coping with his grief.
Travelling with a group of oil riggers to Alaska, Ottway makes it clear he wants to be left alone. Ottway closes his eyes, visualising his late wife, but this peaceful moment is rudely interrupted as the plane rapidly descends.
Surrounded by the remote Alaskan wildernesses, Ottway rises from the plane crash unscathed, but several of the passengers are mortally wounded. In perhaps one of the film's most memorable scenes, Ottway comforts one of the dying oil riggers - it appears he has been in this situation before.
The survivors, which include Hendrick (Dallas Roberts), Talget (Dermot Mulroney), Burke (Nonso Anozie), Flannery (Joe Anderson) and Diaz (Frank Grillo), decide to leave the crash site and try and get help, under Ottway's direction. But as they travel through unforgiving landscape, they are forced to protect themselves from the pack of wolves which roam the area - and resort to brutal animalistic ways in order to survive the elements.
The Grey is an unusual survival film, given the protagonist has a death wish. Each of the men in The Grey have a reason to survive, but Ottway 'lives to die'.
Under the direction of Carnahan, The Grey is much more than a 'pack of wolves versus a pack of men' action film. Rather, the wolves are protecting themselves, just as the men are protecting themselves. It is the environment that pits them against one another.
Carnahan should also be commended for using real wolves, as well as animatronics, instead of going down the CGI route. These 'old school' methods lend a sense of authenticity to The Grey. Sound design is also key in The Grey, particularly in reference to the wolves, as they howl and growl under the moonlight, taunting the men as they try to move out of the 'den'.
What is most impressive about The Grey is Neeson's performance. His hollowed eyes, wind burnt skin and deep gravelly voice are central to the character of Ottway; a complex man who is desperately trying to understand why he continues to walk the earth, while his wife's life was so cruelly taken away. Equally Frank Grillo turns in a great performance as Diaz, who questions Ottway's authority. Mulroney and Roberts also are a welcomed presence.
While there are scenes which may remind you of Cliffhanger (1993), The Grey is more of a philosophical film than a pure action film, as it is more attuned to survival films such as Jeremiah Johnson (1972) and Alive (1993).
Audiences expecting an action film which sees Neeson fist fighting wolves will be sorely disappointed.
Instead, expect an engaging, edge of your seat, character driven survival film, which will have you hooked until the unforgettable final scenes.