Monday, 6 February 2012

'The Grey' review:

'The Grey' reunites 'A-Team' director Joe Carnahan with unlikely action hero Liam Neeson, who plays another rugged, no-nonsense, softly-spoken Irish badass with a grudge against mankind. This time he's Ottway - an ace sniper stationed in the harsh Alaskan wilderness, with only the bitter-sweet memory of his departed wife for company. Employed by an oil company with the unlikely job of protecting drill teams from regular grey wolf attacks, Ottway has taken to a life of isolation, bereft of hope for humanity. He sees those he lives with at the end of the world as being "men unfit for mankind" - you sense he has more affinity for the wolves he is paid to slay.

That is until he is one of a half-dozen survivors of a plane crash thousands of miles away from civilisation. Stranded with a handful of others he is forced to reconnect with humanity in the harshest of circumstances, battling the elements and fending off an aggressive pack of wolves in a bid for survival. At times as the men argue their Alpha behaviour seems to run parallel with that of the wolf pack - one of many interesting ideas in a surprisingly theme rich film that also finds time to give God the finger. It hardly qualifies as a spoiler to say the supporting cast (which includes Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney and James Badge Dale) exist primarily to be picked apart by ravenous wolves, and to provide Ottway with people to wax philosophical with.

You might find yourself drawn to 'The Grey' by the undeniable appeal of seeing Liam Neeson punch an angry CGI wolf in the face - and there is some of that to enjoy - but amidst the bone-crunching carnage and suspenseful survival action there is time for just as much pathos. As the men discuss their children and Ottway recites some of his taciturn father's poetry: "Once more into the fray/Until the last fight I'll ever know/Live and die on this day/Live and die on this day". From that oft-repeated mantra you can probably work out how it all ends.

Carnahan shoots the film in a restrained and gritty style, with heavy use of grain. By avoiding showing too much of the wolves he ensures that sections of the film play like an impressive monster movie. But it's his handling of the survival stuff that's the film's best asset, particularly in the disorienting, noisy plane crash sequence and in a scene of nerve-jangling terror as the surviving men attempt to cross a ravine using a hastily conceived makeshift rope. In its depiction of men battling the elements, it's also far more visceral and engaging than last year's similarly themed 'The Way Back'. Ottway's strange (presumably made up) vocation and the presence of exaggerated, man-eating wolves sets up a sillier film than 'The Grey' actually ever wants to be. In fact it's more often a brutal and painfully realistic depiction of death and loss.

'The Grey' is out now in the UK, rated '15' by the BBFC.

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