Liam Neeson is a bad ass. Whether he’s pulling a fast one on the Nazis, slicing up Storm Troopers, or going ape to save his daughter, the man’s career is full of roles featuring all varieties of badassery. In The Grey Liam is THE BADASS. A role made popular in action and horror flicks over the years; best described as the man with a plan when sh*t goes South. Or in this case, as the trailer so proudly exclaims, the man who will punch a wolf in the face if needed.
After surviving a plane crash, an Alaskan oil drilling team quickly realize that there are worse ways to die. And being eaten by wolves is only one of those worse ways. Director Joe Carnahan’s (Narc, Smokin’ Aces) latest film isn’t simply about bare knuckle boxing wolves (I’d totally watch it if it was though). No, the Alaskan wilderness is no slouch on ways to turn people into stiffs. The freezing cold, lack of food, along with the bitter hopelessness of the wilderness can do the job just fine. The Grey strikes a near perfect balance between outright horror featuring the wolves, who are always lurking, poking, and poaching when the opportunity strikes and the very real and very scary elements surrounding the poor saps unfortunate enough to be stuck there.
As for the wolves, make no mistake, they are downright terrifying. From the first encounter to the last, it’s tense. Really, really tense. My palms were sweaty for a healthy majority of the film in between the moments I wasn’t white-knuckling the theater chair. Initially, I was worried the eerie-eyed wolves may be given too much personification for me to take the film seriously. Like when a certain animal or creature takes up a personal vendetta against a person (think Moby Dick). But that was quickly vanquished and I came to think of the wolves more like the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park; cold, calculated killers.
In what came as the biggest surprise the film also floats in and out of existential campfire conversations. Yep. An existential wolf punching movie. That’s gotta be a first, right? The Grey also packs plenty of touching expositional moments that develop and define the nature and complexity of Neeson’s character. It’s a slow unraveling, but it’s effective nonetheless. Neeson’s performance should be lauded as he’s flat out amazing.
The pacing remains brisk throughout the nearly two hour running time. The arresting landscapes of the Alaskan wild (actually shot in Canada) are often as breathtaking as the action. A particularly emotional scene is turned into a truly special moment in large part due to a phenomenal piece of cinematography which rivals the beauty of an Ansel Adams photo. It’s this constant roller coaster ride of jaw-dropping action horror moments and awe-inspiring terrain that keep the film from ever becoming dull.
The other characters in the film are mostly wolf and element fodder, which is to be expected in a survival horror piece. Some of them are stereotypes. There’s a guy who says things like, “Who nominated this guy to make decisions?” and “I’ve had enough of Neeson’s MacGyver sh*t. I’m gonna do my own thing.” But the strained tensions eventually turn friendly as the survivors dwindle and they realize camaraderie is about all they have left. It’s a tried and true formula, but it’s not without a few twists on the old familiar tropes.
Honestly, I haven’t been this pleasantly surprised by a film in a long time. The Grey is a bleak, gruesome and horrifying action thriller featuring a masterful performance by Liam Neeson. Highly recommended.
Oh, and in case your’e wondering. There is wolf punching and it is epic.
Snore Factor: Z (one of the best)
Red Band Trailer: