The Grey is a wilderness adventure set in the winter of Alaska that will punch your lights out.
Starring Liam Neeson and a cast of rugged characters, the movie takes us through the trials and tribulations of a band of men earning a living working for petroleum corporations in the harsh lands of the 49th state. On their way to Anchorage their plane goes down and they have to survive freezing temperatures.
But their problems have only just begun. They seem to have landed in the territory of a pack of aggressive wolves, who begin to close in. Under cover of dark, the beasts begin to attack.
The survivors have to make a choice. Stay and face more attacks or move away from the wolves’ territory.
It is a tough choice to make considering not just the gravity of the situation but also the nature of these men. They are seekers of fortune and castaways, with a flair for confrontation and aggression. Not the ideal traveling buddies. Tensions build and tempers run wild.
But the beasts are closing in. So the men have to band together to keep them at bay. In the process they discover their inner beasts, which they unleash toward their hunters in order to fend them off.
They also discover their long lost humanity. The memories start flowing, recollections that remind them of the precious things in life.
Somewhere in there, between man and beast, lies redemption. Not all characters find it, but they try. They trudge on, eager to survive and carry their newfound knowledge to a new life.
A Personal Story
Liam Neeson (Ottway) is superb in this film. He has taken himself out there, exploring aspects of loss, tragedy and survival in a way that is eerily close to his personal life. The character he plays, Ottway, is a man who is at the end of his tether, haunted by the memories of a woman he loved, and whom he is no longer with. He thinks of her every day. He wants to be with her but cannot.
It is a grueling role to play when considering Neeson’s personal life. He lost his wife, Natasha Richardson, in a skiing accident in 2009. Playing the role of Ottway must have been very challenging for him, if not torturous.
Perhaps the word for it cathartic. He delivers a powerhouse performance, plunging headfirst into his character’s emotional turmoil, giving the film the backbone it needed to carry it through.
More Than Just A Survival Story?
If you are looking for cheap thrills, you will not find them here. Ditto if you are looking for existential exploration. The Grey hovers somewhere in between the two, combining pace with wits and suspense, avoiding the cheap tricks as well as the deep mazes. It is the story of men at the cusp, with a psychological edge.
It has to be said that the characters of the cast are not fully developed. One could interpret this as a weakness, but it is in fact an asset. The characters are supposed to be hazy and minimal. They are shadows of men, lost in the wilderness of Alaska, as grey and undefined as the bleak backdrop. Their story is the story of a group of lost souls. Their incompleteness is part of the movie’s grace.
The Grey is also a superb allegory. Those with lateral imagination will recognize the symbolism in the colors involved: men caught in a whiteout hunted down by black wolves, in a movie called The Grey. It is a subtle enough arrangement not to be pretentious but strong enough to tickle the mind.
The premise is of course not racial. The colors have to do with polar opposites, rival forces coming together to test the heroes of this story, who seek salvation in a land in turmoil. There are no rights or wrongs involved, just choices, leading to life or death. To a chance to live another hour. The only constant in the formula is the will to survive and the necessity to fight.
Could this movie be pointing toward a world in crisis, where we must now make a choice to fight or die?
Certainly not the stuff of civil ethics, the undercurrent message may upset many people. But the truth of the matter is that we don’t always have the luxury to debate ourselves out of a predicament. Sometimes the game is rigged differently, and we have to take tough action.
The Grey explores that kind of situation. It may not be pretty, but it is part of life, whether we like it or not. We have to be prepared to dig deep and grind our way through certain situations. Be it a toxic marriage, a problem child, a belligerent neighbor, a stagnant economy, a corrupt government, a hateful boss, a destructive employee, or someone who simply enjoys twisting your arm and who never backs down, we have to stand up to the challenge when it comes our way. It’s either that or the end of the line. Like Ottway says, quoting his whisky-guzzling, brawler Irish father, and the poet Jon Treloar, “Once again into the fray…”