IN REVIEW: The Grey - beautiful but forgettable

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
April 1st, 2012

Rating: Two stars out of five

Seven lone survivors of a transport plane wreckage in the desolate Arctic struggling to find safety, thwarted by wolves at every turn, seems like an excellent premise for an action-packed thriller.

But The Grey, set in the stunning mountains surrounding Smithers, B.C., falls short as a tension-filled introspective of man’s survival in a frozen wilderness.

Based on a novella by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, the story follows lovelorn, depressed oilman John Ottway (Liam Neeson) as leader of the band of survivors.

They discover that they are in the territory of a pack of wolves which Ottway describes as killers, “They weren’t eating him, they were killing. We’re a threat, we don’t belong here.” And so the drama unfolds as they try to move towards safety with the wolves constantly at their heels.

By day two there are five left in the group and wolves numbering in the twenties are circling. It is only half way through the movie and I think you can see where we’re going by now.

Director Joe Carnahan’s other films, A-team and Smokin’ Aces, are action-heavy flicks, contrasting The Grey’s slower pace making use of the beauty of the winterscape of northern B.C. But the screenplay is ultimately what fails this film.

The story, adapted by Jeffers and Carnahan for the film, worked perhaps as a short story, but as a feature-length film I wondered, repeatedly, what the point was.

Wisely, Carnahan chose to stay away from too much gore, but the tenacity of the wolf pack, with melodramatic scenes throughout made the plot unbelievable. The movie’s attempts to fill scenes with tension fall flat for me.

As an introspective of man vs. nature and the will to live, the storyline tried to give characters depth, but again failed. Neeson and the rest of the well-cast actors’ quality performances could not override the challenge of the screenplay in the end. In their attempt to survive, the crew’s behaviours mimic that of the wolf pack with challenges to leadership, to cohesive teamwork and ultimately group-think in killing their predators. But even this attempted comparison was unsuccessful in creating believable characters.

With the negative imagery about wolves and weak storyline, it’s interesting that any financial backers got behind this film with over $25 million. Carnahan would have been better off to explain the wolves’ behaviour as induced from oilsands toxins than to try to make us believe that the focused hunting of humans is normal. Then this movie might have had some legs as a sci-fi genre thriller.

As it stands, The Grey, well acted and beautifully filmed, lacked the ability to hold this audience’s attention.

The Grey  (2012) Scott Free Productions, 1984 Private Defense Contractors

Director: Joe Carnahan

Starring: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Joe Anderson and Dallas Robert.