When I go into a theater expecting a film about punching a wolf in the face with broken liquor bottle knuckles, I expect there to be a certain amount of wolf punching, and lower amounts of philosophical exploration.
Maybe I’m becoming a complete savage, only concerned with my most reptilian of impulses, but when I see advertisements for something badass, I want there to be a large amount of the badass element. Hobo With a Shotgun, for example, was filled delightfully throughout with a homeless man carrying a shotgun. Brutal Nazi killing was at a fruitful number during Inglourious Basterds. Even Liam Neeson’s Taken satisfied (greatly) on many levels of promised badassness.
Then there are the things that fail on clearly given (and needed) promises. The Walking Dead doesn’t have enough zombies. Executive Decision wasn’t decisive enough. And The Grey didn’t involve enough hand-to-hand combat with wolves. I’ll get back to this in a minute.
For the most part, I enjoyed The Grey. It was very good, and well made for its genre. If you’re unfamiliar with it, a plane crashes in Alaska, and Liam Neeson (who’s employed as a wolf sniper for a company) and six other people aimlessly try and survive in the snowy conditions. They quickly determine that they are near a wolf den, and relatively quickly start to get hunted by rather large wolves. Slowly but surely, one-by-one, these poor saps get corpsed. Three or four of them get killed in non-wolf ways, btw. So it’s not all brutal maulings. But, uh, rest assured there are adequate amounts of brutal maulings.
The film is very effective not so much in building tension, but more so in random chaos. Something I really admired about it was the film’s ability to move the characters across the scenery as if there wasn’t any threat of a wolf attack, and then BOOM! Wolves! They are literally emerging out of nowhere in the snowy mist. I remember one scene where two characters were in middle of meaningful dialogue, and in the background of the shot you just see two wolves start running at them, then it shifts instantly to an action sequence. Also, the plane crash sequence was notably great, in my opinion. Very intense.
The whole film isn’t non-stop wolf attack, though. The screenplay actually allowed several of the characters to have fairly decent character development, as the dudes bond together in survival. Even the biggest douche of a character gets developed enough to like him by the end. It’s a nice touch to have characters you give a crap about getting killed off in a movie like this, for a change. Not everyone has to be a walking cliché.
Also rare for a movie of this kind was the amount of deep philosophical thought that was put in it. The Grey touches on topics ranging from depression to suicide to religion. It all helped give depth to Liam Neeson’s character, but at the point of the film when Liam Neeson is literally yelling at the sky asking for god’s help, I didn’t know whether to think this was slightly lame or kind of awesome. It definitely wasn’t ultimately necessary. But the response was funny enough, so I guess it was fine that it was in there. If you really look at the structure of the film, and the liberties they took with flashbacks and such, The Grey was a relatively artsy film for what it was.
The ending, though, without spoiling it… was disappointing. There was a lot of build up to it eventually happening, and we all got cheated. If the movie was even just 45 seconds longer, it would have gone up a full rating point in my opinion. It was an ending where a dude in the theater said out loud “You serious?! That was it?!”. Yes, random dude, that was indeed it. We all feel your pain. As my friends and I were exiting the theater, we came up with at least three endings that would have been better before we even got back to the car.
Poor ending aside, I liked The Grey much more than I disliked it. Again, it’s great for its genre. I would enjoy it if a new “Liam Neeson being a badass” movie came out every month. I don’t think he’s fought a shark yet. Someone get to work on that screenplay! The Grey was an enjoyable work of escapism, but the kind that I don’t ever need to see again. Just like that trapped-in-an-underwater-cave movie Sanctum from a year or two ago, sitting through two hours of non-stop, life-or-death tension only needs to be experienced once (I tried to watch Sanctum again on HBO, it was awful on repeat viewing). I appreciated The Grey for trying to be more than just a wolf attack film. But still, and it might be because I’m a bloodthirsty caveman; I was in it for the wolf attacks. You give me a trailer that has Liam Neeson making liquor bottle Wolverine claws, and that’s the kind of stuff I’m interested in when I purchase a ticket. I go to plenty of movies like The Artist and The Descendants, and I get rich stories with fleshed out characters saying brilliant dialogue. In this case, I just wanted to see a crap load of wolves get punched with MacGyver weapons… Is that really so wrong…?!
7.5 out of 10