Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live and die on this day.
Live and die on this day.”
This bit of ‘Irish’ poetry serves as both a repeated mantra in The Grey, as well as a description of what the film is about. Take some very tough men who work in the Arctic oil fields. As John Ottway played by Liam Neeson describes them, they are ‘criminals, ex-cons, and the assholes of the world‘. They work hard, they party hard, and they’re far away from both the society and civilization that we take for granted. By their own choice. All are fleeing some inner demons as well as out to earn some tough money; having signed on to do work that most of wouldn’t even consider.
After a particularly rough night at the bar, (Neeson’s Ottway considered ending his life on this night) a large group of them saddle up for a flight to somewhere – maybe to another work site, or maybe back to civilization (Anchorage) – we aren’t told, and it doesn’t matter. Because the plane crashes. In the middle of nowhere.
Ottway awakens from his dreams about his wife, not during the crash, but afterwards. Temps in the single digits will do that to you. About 8 men survived the crash but one will die off right away. And then there were seven.
The survivors will have deal with everything the Nature can hurl at them – bitter cold, snow, ice, and a lack of water, warmth, shelter, and food. If that wasn’t enough – a pack of wolves – aren’t very happy that these intruders have suddenly descended into their territory.
There’s your set up. Men against nature, the elements, and the wolves, with the emphasis on the extremely territorial wolves. I shouldn’t have to tell that the number of remaining (as in alive) humans is going to dwindle. Directed by Joe Carnahan and produced by Ridley and Tony Scott (among others), the film does a marvelous job in setting the stage – it does look cold, and some of the wilderness locations are spectacular. The cast of characters has the expected amalgam of male types that we’ve seen before in these types of ‘survival’ films, and there’s nothing new in who and what they are, or how they interact, so you don’t really develop a liking for any of them.
Of course they don’t stick around all that long, so the character development, actually the lack of character development, is sort of built into the structure, and you should expect it. John Ottway has been hired as the rifle carrying sniper to protect these men from wolves and bears while they work, so he has the most knowledge about wolves, as well as survival techniques. Despite his knowledge, he won’t be fully endorsed as the de facto leader. Someone will even ask that very question – you know, ‘Who appointed you chief?‘.
That’s to be expected as well. We do need to have some antagonism between the survivors. So they beat on, in ever decreasing numbers, against the elements with the hunter/hunted roles reversed.
If I say, Wow – those fangs, those claws, the intensity of those eyes – I’m more likely to be referencing John Ottway than the wolves. That’s because the wolves themselves will require more imagination than anything else. We never really get a good look at them. We hear them and we occasionally see some movements from a distance – but they’re animatronics creations instead of the real thing.
I have to say that the film has some definite plusses – this is no walk in the park, and is definitely not a picture for the kids. The language is tough and the actors do look like a group that is involved in a life or death struggle.
But there’s not a lot of character development and some of the grousing about god, morality, ethics, and so forth don’t always work either – but we have them in the film because such ingredients are always a part of a survival stew.
The film runs a few minutes short of two hours, and though much of it is quite exciting – it isn’t a film destined to become a classic. There are some females parts in the film but they all slot into the past as remembrances and dreams of the survivors rather than being a part of the present time struggle.
Carnahan and his co-screenwriter Ian Mackenzie Jeffers have written a tale of desperation in a desolate place. The film isn’t uplifting, and there’s no happy ending. Tom Hanks had his Wilson to help him get through the days in Cast Away. Here, Ottway has only his survival instincts, and even if that is saying a lot, there’s always the question of – for how long can he do it?
Three point seven five for the weather and the natural elements, the good job by Neeson, and realistically, this is a good film for a foul weather Friday in Florida. We even lost power due to the storm, and all 12 auditoriums in the cineplex went dark at the same time. But this one is far from satisfying on all levels. I simply can’t say that this one will garner repeat viewings, hence the above average rating cannot go any higher.