The Grey 2011 ★★★★½

Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I'll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.
-Ottway

I took my sweet time finally watching this film because I thought it was just The Edge with wolves instead of a bear. The fact that the last movie that Joe Carnahan directed was The A-Team also didn't make me rush out to the theater to see this. I say that without actually having viewed The A-Team by the way. This film exceeded my expectations in every way possible.

The movie isn't even really about the wolves. The film's true theme is death. How an individual deals with all aspects of death. I realized this early on when the second death in the film had a very strong connection to the first, the first being the death of an animal. Ottway (Liam Neeson) helps both by comforting them while they pass on. After that the theme was clear every time it came up. Giving the dead respect, dealing with the death of loved ones, facing your own mortality, having a crisis of faith and deciding to die on your own terms. Needless to say this is the feel good movie of the year.

The fact that this so called thriller (almost art-house disguised as a thriller) treats death in such a way and makes the characters individuals instead of stand-ins also makes this stand out. You actually believe that the deaths matter to the characters, that each time one of them dies it's a setback for them.

The directing in this film is superb. The camera work and sound especially were used most effectively. First off the use of extreme closeups actually has a purpose in this film. When Ottway is off in thought and closes off the outside world we get close ups of Liam Neeson's face and it conveys exactly what the director wants us to get. You get glimpses of what is going on around him but you can't be entirely sure until Ottway's concentration is broken, then the camera pans out. Of course this isn't the first film to do this, it's just the first one in a while I've been conscious of it happening.

The sound is also used in the same way to great effect for Neeson's character. Sometimes just silence until he's brought back into the real world and we get bombarded by the noise pollution of a plane full of anxious men that want to go home for example. This effect goes even further in the woods, whether or not those wolf howls were realistic or not doesn't matter as they were effective.

I expected an ok action thriller with Liam Neeson duking it out with some wolves. Instead I got an extremely well directed film that deals with many different aspects of death in a mature manner uncommon in Hollywood films. It also has one of the most satisfying endings I've seen in a film in a while.

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