Once more into the fray…
The first thing to point out (because of the order in which I wrote this review) is that the people who made the poster didn’t watch the movie. This is just one more example of how marketers should be humanely put down and replaced by those involved in the film. How many times have you watched a movie trailer, saw the film, and said, “but that scene wasn’t even in the movie!” For this reason, I avoid watching trailers for movies I think that I might like. The best trailer I’ve seen (perhaps ever) was for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) which was essentially a montage without content. I was interested, more than interested, I was psyched and I didn’t have a clue what it was about. Mission: Accomplished.
Liam Neeson plays Ottway a listless soul employed as a hunter in the north of Alaska to keep the oil workers safe. It’s a place that collects the dross of society. Men who don’t know each other and just hold onto a drill for a paycheck. Flying back to Anchorage, the plane crashes and the survivors try to stay that way. The wolves aren’t going to make it easy.
One of the major insider-baseball fun facts is that this was produced by Ridley and Tony Scott. There are no hyper-speed revolving shots of particularly large trees or landscapes, so that shouldn’t worry you too much. In fact, if there is a touch of the Scott, I couldn’t make it out. I suppose Neeson does walk by some saplings, brushing them with his open palm much as Russell Crowe did in Gladiator (2000), but that’s it.
Joe Carnahan, who directed The A-Team (2010) and Smokin’ Aces (2006), departs from actioneering with a pro-hero bias and gives us the survival of lucky. We’ve just got to keep moving. Sometimes cool things happen, sometimes people just don’t make it, but all the time the wolves are going to scare the crap out of you. Carnahan directs the action much the way you would expect–detached, nature shifting between all white and all black, a bright and piercing sun in your eyes. A crew of semi-eclectic personalities keeps us grounded when we’re not terrified. The characters consider the void aloud and the usual suspects show up–God, not God, oh GOD!
Like a joke, when you pull out all the pieces, it stops being funny and, in this case, stops being interesting. That’s why we don’t read movies–we watch them. Watch this one. Yeah, all the philosophy has been considered and some of it is done better elsewhere. This one is about survival–how do you survive, why survive, will we survive? The movie captures it, we watch it, and then we sit there in silence for a good ten minutes letting it swim laps in our heads. That is, unless you go with someone and they break in too early and asks, “What did you think?” Shh. I’m thinking.
There are a number of films that cause this in me–Valhalla Rising (2009), Drive (2011), and Inception (2010) are decent examples. The movie ends (usually in the same drop-the-curtain way) and I look around like I’ve forgotten where I am. I try to catch a thought and it swims away. I think that means I liked it.
Liam Neeson was excellent, as we have come to expect from him. We see his character all over his face and we feel his thoughts when we look into his eyes. His character is well built by the dialogue and he takes it the rest of the way. His support is functional-to-very good. Their characters are less well built, but that’s not too important. There was only one moment where the script got a bit too literal for itself and a little bit of the magic died. It happens right near the end, so that’s doubly unfortunate. A character inquires so laboriously–we got the point five words in, that’s where you were supposed to stop typing. Oh well. One crack is pretty good.
What The Edge (1997) was for the bear, The Grey is for the wolf. There I said it. To those who fear this will lead to anti-wolf sentiment, I say, “Wha?” Jaws (1975) didn’t make the Chinese a bunch of alternative medicine loonies for shark fin soup. The Grey doesn’t have anything to do with ranchers prioritizing their livestock. Please!