The Grey is a truly thrilling and disturbing experience that illustrates the weakness of men, the strength of Mother Nature and the might of a territorial wolf-pack. It is a film that knows how to balance terror and emotion properly.
The characters are actually real people with real feelings; not just a pack of screaming victims that seem to infest films of this genre.
As this gritty and dark film opens, we are introduced to our main character, and possibly most disturbed character, John Ottway (Liam Neeson). His job is to prevent the vicious Alaskan wolves from killing pipeline workers.
The place: a remote part of Alaska, an area that Ottway compares to hell and inhabited by ex-cons, degenerates and the scum of Earth. Ottway seems to have some very dark secrets that are slowly revealed over the course of the film. He has flashbacks of a woman we can only presume to be his wife – possibly alive, but not probable.
Many details in the opening scene show Ottway’s outlook on life. A subtle glance at a neon crucifix desperately trying to stay lit, an emotional scene involving the writing of a suicide note and a flashback to a time where he was most happy. What does this all mean? Clearly Ottway has lost his faith in humanity, himself and God.
“I’ve stopped doing this world any real good.”
The next scenes take place on a plane. The destination is unknown, yet irrelevant because the plane never reaches its destination. In a very realistic few scenes, we are thrown, bounced and whipped around this plane as it crashes into a desolate area of Alaska. Director Joe Carnahan (The A-team, Smokin’ Aces) uses some great sound techniques to show the chaos and discombobulation while the plane enters a snow storm and gets ripped apart.
Naturally, Ottway survives the crash. Still in shock from the realization that the plane crashed and that he is stranded in one of the most dangerous places, he must now search for survivors. In the following scenes, we get a good amount of emotion flowing as these hardened and masculine men must sift through plane wreckage and mangled bodies. This proves that even they are capable of crying.
Of the crew and passengers, seven are left alive to endure the freezing Alaskan wilderness. But not for very long. To make things even more difficult, the plane crashed in a wolf hunting ground fairly close to the wolves den. And according to Ottway, wolves will kill anything that enters their den.
From the time of the plane crash and on, we are engrossed in a game of cat and mouse between a desperate pack of men and a cunning, vicious and monster-like pack of wolves.
In some aspects, The Grey does conform to this disaster style of film. Even though the characters are well-developed, some of the roles are a bit cliched. Ottway assumes the leadership role and becomes the alpha of the pack. His main rival is Diaz, played by Frank Grillo (Minority Report), your typical hot head character who has trouble taking orders and rarely thinks things through.
What made the characters unusual is that they start out cliched, but then they blossom into these individuals that have their own life stories, families and sets of emotions. cliched or not, I respect the time used to describe these people and make them more relatable. I found myself asking how would we act in a situation like this; always on the run from either the elements or these ghoulish animals.
What I liked the most about this film is the juxtaposition between each of these ‘packs.’ The pack of men is one wrought with instability, fear and chaos. They are driven by a sense of faith and hope. The wolf pack acts solely out of nature. They lack judgement, opinion and emotion – killing everything they can. And each pack is commanded by an alpha or a leader. The ending of the film shows the final brawl between the alpha wolf and Ottway – and there can be only alpha. The only question is, who will it be.