Thursday, June 21, 2012

THE GREY (2012)

On a desolate oil field in the barren arctic tundra, Ottway (Liam Neeson) works as a hired killer, shooting wolves and other predators that threaten the coarse, hard-bitten workers as they go about the company’s business.  The workmen board a plane (for where and why, it’s never clear) that subsequently crashes in the Alaskan wasteland, leaving only a handful of survivors, including resourceful Ottway, rebellious Diaz (Frank Grillo), quiet Talget (Dermot Mulroney), thoughtful Hendrick (Dallas Roberts), and motor mouth Flannery (Joe Anderson).  They build a fire and take stock of provisions, but discover more immediate danger from an aggressive pack of wolves that, Ottway believes, may be protecting a nearby den.  The men journey in the direction of what they hope is civilization while pursued by the persistent and lethal wolf pack.  Director Joe Carnahan, best known for such high-octane action films as THE A-TEAM and SMOKIN’ ACES, announces a more contemplative intent from the outset.  The night before the fateful flight Ottway writes a soul-searching letter to his estranged wife, then contemplates suicide, and is only brought to his senses by the mournful howl of a wolf in the distance.  In the aftermath of the crash Ottway gently coaxes a dying man to let go.  For much of its first half the film has many trappings of the action and horror genre – men isolated in the wild, stalking monsters (wolves in this case), sudden and gruesome death.  But around its midpoint the script by Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (from Jeffers’ short story “Ghost Walker”) begins revealing more of the men’s hopes and fears as they ponder life, death, and their uncertain future.  In trifling films such as TAKEN Neeson’s presence has given implausible action more gravitas than it would otherwise deserve.  Here the action, while often no less implausible, is buttressed further by strong support from Grillo, Mulroney and Roberts.  Just as last year’s SOURCE CODE used its genre conventions to explore a more cerebral theme, Carnahan’s stark tale of adventure delivers suspense, thrills and a thoughtful meditation on survival.

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