Friday, January 27, 2012

Day 282 - The Grey

The Grey (2012) directed by Joe Carnahan

The Grey is a surprisingly introspective survival thriller that is more about character than fighting off ravenous wolves. It is a movie where people die in the worst ways imaginable but not before contemplating their lives. Thus The Grey is not the typical survival film you would expect. There is a delicate balance between the thoughtful breaks where we get to know the characters and the impending doom that awaits them and for the most part it works. It is hurt a little by its self importance (read pretentiousness) but at the same time it is elevated beyond the mindless popcorn drivel you were probably expecting.

The film begins with Ottway (Liam Neeson) narrating a somber passage of loneliness, isolation and despair. He works for an oil company in the wilderness of Alaska with a bunch of men like himself who he describes as "not fit for humanity." There are flashbacks of a woman he lost some time ago, hence his dour mood and a scene where he contemplates suicide. This movie doesn't just go for moody, it goes for downright depressing.

Ottway boards a plane with a bunch of his misfit friends and co-workers and needless to say the plane goes down. There are just a handful of survivors. One man dies early on with Ottway holding his hand telling him to think of the person he loves. The film takes each character into careful consideration as if to say that these are real people we should care about, not victims.

Victims of what, you may ask? Blood thirsty wolves who like nothing more than to viscously attack people. I don't think anybody would claim that wolves aren't dangerous animals, but I seriously doubt they resemble anything like the man eating mutants we see on screen. It should be noted that there have only been like two confirmed wolf related deaths in the US in the past 100 years. I don't think I am ruining anything when I say more than two people get killed by wolves in this movie. Yeah I know what you're thinking. They make the shark in Jaws a monster even though sharks don't really kill that many people either, but for some reason I just found the whole killer wolf thing a little preposterous. It would also help if they didn't look as fake as the werewolves from Twilight.

Nonetheless, the film shifts its tone into a harsh survival film where our survivors must battle the Alaskan winter and killer wolves. Yes, it is suspenseful and scary. If the film stuck with this premise it would be totally fine as a standard popcorn flick you can watch with a date. However as soon as the film digs deeper and tries to get all existential, it automatically labels itself as "that type of movie." There's nothing wrong with a film trying to transcend its genre, but it better be damn sure it doesn't teeter on pretentiousness on the way up.

Among the things the characters discuss is the existence of God, life and death, figuring out what to fight for, loved ones, and Irish poetry. Some of it is genuinely thoughtful and introspective, while other parts border on being cliche. There is one eye rolling bit of dialogue when one character talks about the look he saw in Ottway's eyes before as a man who has given up on life. How many times have you heard that one before?

However I must commend The Grey for trying to be different, for trying to make us care for the characters and giving us something to think about. It winds up being a thoughtful movie with a great sense of atmosphere to it. It has an eerily somber mood highlighted by the bleak cinematography, Liam Neeson's strong performance and a generally strong script.

Grade: B

The film spends so much time being bleak, we can accept its non traditional ending as one with hope. He has made his peace so what happens afterwards is almost irrelevant; it is how he lives these last few moments that matter the most. (By the way, apparently there is a brief scene after the credits. I left the theatre before that but if it is what I am reading, I am glad it is not part of the regular movie as it sort of negates what I thought about how it ended.)

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