The Grey is not a feel-good movie.
It will chill you to the bone, bring tears to your eyes and evoke fear that you never thought was possible.
Despite all this, it is one of the most powerful and provocative films to date because it exposes human beings at their most corroded state — one that is rarely experienced in everyday life.
Directed by the brilliant Joe Carnahan, The Grey tells the story of an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks who survive a plane crash in the remote Alaskan wilderness. While already battling glacial temperatures and the traumatic aftermath of the crash that killed dozens of fellow flyers, they find themselves the victims of a ruthless pack of monstrous wolves whose territory they have invaded.
Liam Neeson masterfully assumes the role of Ottway, the group’s de facto leader because of his position on the rig as the wolf lookout. Ottway contends with an internal battle of his own as he, facing excruciating loneliness after losing his wife, contemplated suicide on the eve of the plane crash.
In a drastic turnaround from his hopelessness and despair of the night before, Ottway must summon every ounce of strength and courage to rally the seven surviving men around their common goal: survival.
The wolves, which have a colossal stature making them seem more mythical than real, commence their attacks immediately, devouring one of the men on their very first night. The creatures are smart and vindictive, picking the men off one by one and attacking when the men are at their most vulnerable state.
Frozen and hunted, the dwindling survivors are forced to search deep within themselves for the strength and will to persevere, which is undoubtedly the most shining aspect of the film — the erosion of humanity in each of the men, demonstrated by superb acting performances.
Neeson’s performance as the tormented Ottway is undoubtedly the show-stealer. In the film, Neeson’s character makes daring choices and is forced to set aside his internal struggles to lead the men in the face of death. Neeson, a seasoned veteran in powerful, masculine roles (Taken, Michael Collins), brings every ounce of strength and command that we have come to expect from his past performances. He even adds an unexpected and welcome dose of sensitivity that surfaces in brief flashbacks of him with his wife.
Though Neeson’s exceptional performance truly commands the film, the actors portraying the other survivors gave remarkable performances as well.
Frank Grillo shines as Diaz, the young, brash spitfire whose bad attitude and rebellious behavior pose a serious threat to the teamwork and cooperation of the group — something paramount to their survival.
Grillo’s performance is particularly impressive because of the well-defined arc his character undergoes. Initially a churlish, bratty punk refusing to admit his own fear and insecurity, Diaz is forced to re-evaluate everything he has ever believed in and to face life with brutal honesty.
Grillo brings a truthfulness and ease to the character that makes the gradual exposure of his deepest fears and desires a truly haunting phenomenon to witness.
Though the plot is relatively simple, the ever-changing relationships and dynamics between the men and the wolves, who truly are characters themselves, are more than sufficient to drive the story and to engage the audience from start to finish.
The tension is palpable throughout the entire film, not allowing the audience to relax in the slightest, even during moments that are apparently calm.
The cinematography is masterful, capturing the grisly conditions of their surroundings and the sense of barren hopelessness in a way that will make the viewer shiver, even in the warm comfort of the movie theater.
All in all, The Grey is a terrifying, teeth-gritting action-packed thriller. It will have you on the edge of your seat in anticipation, forcing you to deeply examine humanity, faith, fear and the transient nature of life — a rare accomplishment in the genre of action thrillers.