Netflix Movie Month: "The Grey" Review
on 2014-01-07 17:00
Rating: R (violence, disturbing content, and pervasive language)
Length: 117 minutes
Release Date: January 27, 2011
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
"The Grey" has been praised as one of Liam Neeson's greatest films. Interestingly, Liam Neeson didn't always want to star in action films. He even turned down the role of James Bond because of his lack of interest in the genre. Of course, in recent years, Liam Neeson has become one of the most beloved action stars in the world. "The Grey" provides a cold, harsh backdrop for one of his most emotional roles to date as John Ottway, an oil worker who lost his beloved wife and has no desire to live any longer. When a plane carrying John and several other oil workers crashes in the frigid mountains, he finds a new reason to live when he reluctantly becomes the leader of the few remaining survivors.
Not all the attention "The Grey" received was positive. Animal welfare groups criticized the film for its fictionalized portrayal of wolves, which are timid animals in reality but ferocious man-eaters in "The Grey." However, contrary to popular belief, the wolf characters in "The Grey" are not preying on the human trespassers for no reason. These wolves are exacting revenge after their own loved ones were killed by oil workers. While this is certainly not something any wild wolf would do, "The Grey" is not a particularly realistic film to begin with. At its heart, it's an existential allegory.
John Ottway in particular is one of the wolves' most sought-after targets, as it was his job for several years to shoot any wolf that came near the other oil workers. Even though the humans are the focus of the film, it's hard to see the animals as true antagonists considering they're just fighting for survival too. John Ottway understands this even though most of the other oil workers hate the wolves that are hunting them down. When he kills the first wolf at the start of the film, he strokes its fur as it dies to comfort it, clearly feeling regret that his job is such a brutal one. He even refers to himself as a murderer and seems to feel like he deserves his impending doom to some extent.
As the film progresses, nature seems to be winning its war against the oil workers. Whether they fall prey to the wolves, a river, or a long fall, the future seems bleak for the men struggling to survive. John Ottway looks to the photo of his late wife in his wallet for inspiration to keep fighting, a far cry from where he was at the beginning of the film when he was writing a heartfelt suicide note to her spirit. The end of the movie reveals the tragic circumstances surrounding her death just before John's brave battle with the alpha wolf, which has spared him up to this point so they can have a one-on-one "man to man" match. The ending is not nearly as dramatic as many felt it should have been, but it was fitting for a film that was more poetry and parable than typical action flick.
The chemistry between the characters is one of the many things that makes "The Grey" such an entertaining movie. In spite of their circumstances, the survivors still experience funny moments, and they share many touching stories from their pasts as they sit around a campfire with the wolves looking on from the edge of the woods. This makes the many death scenes even more heart wrenching and difficult to watch, especially since it seems it's only a matter of time before each and every survivor meets his fate in the mountains.
"The Grey" is packed with plenty of heart-pounding scenes, but it never loses sight of its goal. It's clear from the start that the film's goal is to tell a story about the nature of man and the consequences of pitting oneself against the unforgiving wilderness. "The Grey" tells a tale of man's sheer stubbornness in the face of death and refusal to give up hope even when all is lost. Despite the fact John Ottway's character is contemplating ending his own life at the start of the movie, it's clear that he wants to die on his own terms. Unlike the other oil workers, John is not afraid to die. It's his desire to keep fighting, not his desire to keep living, that drives him. His motto both begins and ends the movie: "Once more into the fray, into the last good fight I'll ever know. Live and die on this day, live and die on this day."
Rating: 3 out of 5