Watched Jun 17, 2012
Tim Pelan’s review:
“Once more into the fray
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know
Live or die on this day
Live or die on this day.”
John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a marksman, hired by an oil company to keep wolves at bay from a remote oil drilling base in the Alaskan wilderness. When his flight back to Anchorage with other roughnecks crash lands in spectacular fashion, he and a small handful of survivors must summon every reserve of physical and mental strength to reach civilization and evade “the grey” – a large pack of terrifying wolves, threatened by man’s intrusion into their kill zone.
Don’t be misled by the marketing of this film. It’s not just “Jaws with claws”: it strives for something more existential and Hemingway-esque in plain and unforgivingly bleak poetry of visuals and sparse words. Ottway is a man in self-imposed exile. At the top of the film he writes a letter to his wife who has left him, and we see her in idealised flashback. As he drifts through the bar-room violence of the riggers last shift, carrying his rifle, it feels almost like the sci-fi remake of High Noon, Outland. He then attempts to take his own life, but a wolf call stays his hand. Later, after the crash, he carries his letter as s talisman. Each man in the group deals with their predicament in their own way, but apart from a few revealing moments, the other characters are thinly sketched. Broadly, this a film about death, and life: how one accepts their fate, or rages against the dying of the light. Liam Neeson digs deep into his own recent personal pain to deliver a revealing performance here.
Superb location shooting, sound design and cinematography completely immerse the viewer into this frozen punishment park. There is a bleak beauty in the smallest of details; a blood smeared paw print crystalizes in the sub-zero snow. Excellent special effects deliver the most convincingly realistic plane crash since Andes survival film Alive, wittily referenced by one loud mouthed survivor in the aftermath. Visually imaginative transitions snatch the viewer back into reality with Ottway when he awakes. The wolves are a mix of live trained animals, CGI, and animatronics, and are a mostly convincing and intelligent threat. They look ghostly as they shimmer across open ground in a blizzard to pick off a straggler, the rest of the band hampered in the rescue by the knee high snow.
The poem at the top of this review is a self-penned tone by ottway’s father, as related by him in a campfire exchange. Ottway describes him as typical Irish bullshit, emotionally distant, but a lover of the written word, as if he sees weakness elsewhere. The flashback to ottway as a young boy with his father in his den evokes the dreamy imagery of Terrence Malick, and the emotional truth resonates.
The poem, neither great nor terrible, takes on more significance as the journey comes to its logical conclusion. It also calls to mind Robert Frost’s Stopping by woods on a snowy evening: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go, before I sleep.”
As subtle reveals are made in Ottway’s backstory, and the surrounding gloom gives way to crisper, brighter surroundings, lichen and moss on the river bank startling against the snowline, it seems to reflect a clarity of purpose in Ottway after the wolves have picked the group off (no surprises there) , leading to a final, powerful climax. It is a perfect conclusion that elevates this grim premise to loftier heights. Rumour has it director Joe Carnahan intends to rerelease the film closer to next years Academy Awards. hopefully “The Grey” will translate to “Oscar Gold” in some capacity. It deserves some recognition.