"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
- John Lennon
Many argue that humans are animals. Animals that are capable of shocking things when provoked or thrown into a desperate situation with lives at stake. We followed along the blurred line of the animalistic sense of survival where hunters become hunted in The Grey.
In Alaska, a group of oil drillers led by Ottway (Liam Neeson) struggle to survive after their plane crashes in a violent snowstorm. With only a few remaining alive they band together to walk to civilisation. These men have never said more than a few words to each other, but now they have no choice but to trust and support each other when they are found to be stranded in the middle of an endless horizon of ice and snow polluted with a deadly pack of wolves. These ferocious creatures seem to see them as some sort of intruders and as Ottway is the only one among them that has any understanding of wolves and how they hunt, he must lead the group in their quest for being.
This was directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan who has collaborated with Neeson before on The A-Team . As a result, there is definitely a sense of trust and understanding between Neeson and Carnahan – it's a shame that the rest of the cast weren't let in. Neeson is a strong lead, but how strong can the lead be if there is no strength or integrity in the other characters? Really, the wolves had more depth. Aren't they called 'supporting actors' for a reason?
But this isn't entirely the fault of the actors. The screenplay, while it tries to offer substance with colourful and reminiscent family stories around the campfire, just feels like it's there purely for that reason – to add substance. While this mentality is fine, it just doesn't blend with the gruesome nature of the conflict at hand. We need to know about the characters before the chaos begins so that we may sympathise. If it happens after or during (as it is here) then it's more like a plea for compassion. Furthermore, while in the opening scene we are offered a little of Ottway's home life with a woman that he clearly longs for, we aren't given any details. Who is she? What happened between them? Etc.
At a runtime of 110 minutes it is prolonged with monotonous and repetitive scenes – they walk, camp, someone gets killed by a wolf: repeat. While some of the fight scenes involving the wolves are quite ravenously effective and brutal, it soon becomes clear that the next 90 minutes is going to involve each of them being savagely torn apart by the wolves with only Ottway left for some sort of climactic stand-off. It's ultimately what we want from the ending, but the journey to get there becomes a little boring.
Ultimately with its flaws The Grey becomes a forgettable piece of cinema. An interesting concept that had potential to be a deeply emotive and destructive tale of survival is sadly a gratuitous little experiment in filmmaking. With the intimidating nature of the Alaskan setting, and a strong lead from the always impressive Liam Neeson, there is little else for which this action/drama can be commended.