It’s been a good while since the world has seen a quality ‘man vs. nature’ movie, and going into a viewing of this current offering, one wonders what exactly to expect—your average, over-the-top schlock? A desperate and depressing treatise on the power of humanity over all things? Or how about a testosterone-fueled gore fest? Fortunately, The Grey is not wholly any of these—and instead stands as a deeply philosophical and quietly powerful examination of what really drives a man to push on in the face of hopeless adversity.
...That the adversity in this case comes in the form of a plane crash in the middle of uninhabited Arctic Alaska obviously ups the ante a little. Liam Neeson thus stars as Ottway, the de-facto leader of a handful of survivors of said airline disaster, and while the immediate threats to our [anti]hero’s survival range from the sub-zero cold, lack of food, and becoming the prey of a pack of vicious wolves—the real struggle this film portrays is that of a group of men of different background, race, and religion trying to band together and simply survive. Each carries his own share of demons and shortcomings into this quest, and it is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that the concept of the ‘survival of the fittest’ applies here. While I won’t spoil the whole ride by telling all, let it suffice to say that the journey is indeed long and hard—and respite and successful moments come few and far in-between.
What really makes director Joe Carnahan’s story work is the realism and maturity he approaches the subject matter with—and great value is consequently found in a potentially tedious plot that ultimately succeeds in not trying too hard. Are there some fantastic elements to be seen? Sure… this is, after all folks, Hollywood; what shines more brightly than the silver on this screen, though, are the acting and technical elements that build it all up. Excellent—and at times painfully-realistic—long-takes permeate this picture, and coupled with breathtaking cinematography and a surprisingly mellow and compelling score, there is little about the group’s struggle that falls short of becoming harrowing.
The dark and tense experience that is The Grey comes very close to being a masterpiece, and is highly recommended. Potential viewers who might be a bit squeamish should however be warned that this one earns its hard-R rating and then some—so those with an aversion to graphic violence, language, and over-all anguish might not want to board this plane. Otherwise, come one and all… ready to “live or die on this day.”
KFP Rating: 4 out of 5 stars