So you watched the trailer for The Grey and thought, “Awesome! A whole movie about Liam Neeson punching wolves in the wilderness! Just what I need to get me through these miserable winter months!” – or was I the only one thinking that?
Regardless…yes, with this latest action/thriller from Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team) you do get a fair amount of wolf wrasslin’ for your money but surprisingly, as a bonus you also get poetry and philosophy and just a sprinkling of artful religious fervour.
Working from a short story by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, who also wrote the first draft of the screenplay, co-writer and director Carnahan places the always formidable Liam Neeson in the middle of an exhilarating and occasionally bloodcurdling thriller that has way more going on than originally advertised.
Neeson plays Ottway, a guy whose only job up in a frozen Alaskan wilderness, seems to be “ultimate wolf hunter.” He skulks around the frozen grounds, protecting the oil workers from attacks, keeping to himself and dreaming of his wife who is no longer with him (at this point we don’t know why) but never leaves his thoughts.
As the film opens, Ottway seems ready to turn his rifle on himself but he’s stopped by the howling of some nearby grey wolves and instead decides to board a plane full of his fellow burly oil dudes headed south.
Unfortunately, the plane hits a storm and ends up going down in a snowy expanse of tundra, spilling its manly contents across the frozen wasteland. Not one to be felled by a mere aeronautical disaster, Ottway wakes up, dusts the snow off of his handsomely weathered face and gamely accepts his role as saviour to all the other poor bastards who are now stuck out in the middle of nowhere with him.
As it turns out, the handful of survivors are a perfect amalgam of types one has come to expect from movies that throw a group of strangers together to face the elements as one. There’s a the wisecracking dude (Ben Bray), the soft spoken parent who just wants to get home to his kid (Dermot Mulroney), the angry guy who argues every decision just because he can (Frank Grillo), the always scared dude (Dallas Roberts) and a few others who may as well have the words “wolf bait” stamped on their foreheads for all the concern the movie has with developing their characters beyond genre stereotypes.
As the group attempts to survive their first night in the wild, it quickly becomes evident that they’re not alone. It turns out the plane crashed near a wolf den and those wacky canines are pissed enough at the intrusion to make it their business to stalk and kill each and every one of the human interlopers.
The men (well, Ottway) conclude that sitting around waiting to be rescued is probably not smart so they slowly make their way into a nearby wooded area, where they might better defend themselves against the vengeful predators and possibly find a way out of the wolves’ territory and thus, to safety.
The story that follows the men’s descent into the forest is a taut, lean and intense drama that boasts strains of Jack London and Albert Camus yet still has the chops to satisfy both action and horror fans. Sure some of the dialogue borders on new age hokum and occasionally the rogue wolves (which are a mixture of real animals, CGI and practical effects) are laughably fake-looking, but amongst all of the carnage and male-posturing, there are genuine moments of beauty and grace that will surely leave you howlin’ for more.