The Grey: Liam Neeson is Lord of the Flies
forgive my delay as I saw this last week.
We’ve seen man have to battle nature constantly, from Tom Hanks to Bear Grylls. It isn’t just that he survives that intrigues us but rather how he survives. How does he cope with the loneliness or the potential possibility that he will die? How does he fight death and, more importantly, does he win? What some of these don’t show is how scary survival can be, especially in cruel places like…I don’t know… the frozen tundra. Enter Liam Neeson with The Grey.
Director Joe Carnahan brings us one of the first films of the year with this one: a psychological thriller that explores not just the man trying to survive but also contemplate the importance of it. In the midst of all this, the experience itself turns out to be pretty decent with a few scary and even powerful moments. Combined with great cinematography, powerful dialogue, and decent direction, The Grey gives a satisfying look on the internal and external struggles out in the wilderness.
Neeson plays John Ottway, a man hired to kill wolves for an oil drilling team in Alaska. While contemplating suicide, he wonders whether or not his life amounts to anything. After his plane crashes (in a pretty intense and nicely done way), he and a group of other men have to battle the bitter ice and a pack of wolves that want to feast on them. In the process, each wonder about the spiritual and the physiological reasons as to why they should keep moving.
Neeson’s played some good roles and some bad roles but still plays them all the same. Nevertheless, he’s a trusted source when it comes to the determined common fighter. If Qui-Gon Jin didn’t make you happy, check out Michael Collins for a much better performance. This role really does fit him even if you can tell he’s playing a role. At times he does grasp the depression and sadness of his character, but most of the time he’s still pretty subtle and incoherent. Good news is you can understand the best lines. Neeson surrounds himself with an ensemble of relative nobodies who manage to capture the realism and interest of the characters. They look and feel like real people bonding with each other.
Joe Carnahan focuses more on realism than exaggerated action or suspense. The things that happen in this movie can possibly happen in real life, such as wolves and getting trapped in the water. The realism does grip the audience into the experience without being over the top, but it does fall victim to the typical jump scare. He tries to make the wolves as the ultimate enemy, but the scariest moments in the movie don’t involve the wolves; hell, they don’t involve the jump scares. Fear needs to linger with the audience without giving them the typical shock and awe. If the entire moment strikes concern as opposed to just one typical shriek, then it’s truly a scary moment. That’s how movies like Black Swan and Fight Club succeed as psychological thrillers. Seeing how everyone dies in the movie adds more to the internal issue regarding death and, interestingly, helps us understand it. Neeson explains to someone what death is like, and we get to see it in the eyes of one of the characters. This makes the death more bittersweet than sad, although some deaths are.
The most interesting part, though, is how Neeson searches for a spiritual need to live. The most reoccurring part involves a poem that his father wrote. He repeats the line “live or die on this day” which proves more powerful as the last line in the movie than in anything else. It becomes apparent that he’s not only battling the grey of the snow but that of the human will. All of this is captured with simple, impressionist shots of Alaska that take its time in capturing the world around these men; the movie doesn’t leap around like most movies do. It’s not Saving Private Ryan worthy, but it’s refreshing for this kind of movie.
The Grey may seem like another survival movie, but it stands out as something a little more. While it suffers from the tropes of horror movies, the moments that work really do work. Neeson doesn’t disappoint in his role. The realism and impressionism offer a beautiful yet scary depiction of the Alaskan wilderness. It gives the audience a first-hand experience as to what life and death mean and may give the audience a reason whether to “live or die on this day”. It’s not the best movie of the year, but it’s definitely worth seeing once.
Final Rating: 7.5 (I’d Go)