The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2012)

What's it about? In the red corner! Liam Neeson! In the blue corner! Wolves! Fight! Fight! Fight! But wait! There's actually a little more going on here than a bog-standard mano-a-wolfo showdown.


Is it any good? Better than you might expect, actually. The set-up is clean and economical; a plane crash leaves John Ottway (Neeson) and a few fellow survivors stranded in the wintry Alaskan wilderness. Not only are they at the mercy of the brutal elements, but it soon becomes clear they are being hunted a pack of predatory wolves. As a thriller, the tight set-up means it works pretty well, with some tense moments as the (mostly) unseen wolves stalk the men as they try to make it to safety, picking them off one at a time. There's also plenty of good old fashioned man-versus-nature scenarios as they battle not just the wolves, but blizzards, rivers, icy cliff-edges and even a tree. Fans of Bear Grylls, Grizzly Adams or that training montage in Rocky IV will love it. It's also given weight by the hefty presence of Neeson who continues to successfully reinvent himself as an action hero, here playing the sort of guy you imagine really would survive a plane crash, withstand the weather and still have the strength to fight off a wolf or two.

But the pleasant surprise here is that in the film's quieter moments it manages to build a bit of genuine emotional depth. Faced with death, the men philosophically ponder life, faith and the existence of God, in a couple of credible scenes around their campfire, whilst the whole experience has particular resonance for Ottway, who has been harbouring suicidal thoughts. Perhaps it's even deeper than that - it's interesting to note it's based on a book called Ghost Walker and certain aspects of the film invite speculation. How does Ottway know what death feels like? What is the real meaning of that memory of the iv drip? What about that final after-the-credits shot? There's enough going on here to suggest a couple of different readings of the film's events. Okay, that might be crediting it as more profound that it actually is, but it's not bad going for an adventure-thriller to even raise such considerations. And if you don't care for such ambiguous subtext, it's still satisfying as a Jack London meets Predator survival-in-the-wilds flick. And Neeson does punch a wolf. Hooray!

I don't trust you. What do others think? Generally favourable reviews all round, with audiences also impressed by Neeson's growing stature as an action hero. His secret is simple. Ever since that celebrated phone call scene in Taken, he has shrewdly realised that movie audiences are simple creatures who like to have things spelled out for them in black and white. Here, he growls things like "I'm gonna start beating the shit out of you in the next five seconds. And you're going to swallow a lot of blood" or "We're gonna to shove a stick up this thing's ass. Then we're gonna cook it. And then we're gonna eat it". With such a penchant for spelling out his plans in detail before he actually does them, it can only be a matter of time before we see him cast as a Bond villain. Or, even better, the Hooded Claw. You know that would be awesome.

Anything else I should know? When he's back home in Ireland, Neeson drinks in a little pub about a mile up the road from me. I've been past it several times, but never actually been in. True story.

What does the Fonz think? Crap title, Good film





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