As I was saying in my review of Man on a Ledge, the end of January has a few surprisingly entertaining films to offer. Opening alongside, Ledge, is The Grey. And while these films are very different, they are both entertaining in their own way. Ledge is kind of what you expect, only better than you would expect in a late January release. The Grey however is an entirely different animal altogether. Part thriller, part horror, part adventure, part drama sprinkled with a bit of comedy, The Grey took me by surprise. Director Joe Carnahan, the man responsible for bringing us Smokin’ Aces and breathing new life into The A-Team manages to make a success out of what many would have made into a disaster.
Liam Neeson, who plays Ottway, along with his fellow co-workers: Dallas Roberts (Hendrick), Frank Grillo (Diaz), Dermot Mulroney(Talget), Nonso Anozie (Burke) and Joe Anderson (Flannery), are the only survivors when their plane crashes in the middle of Alaska. As a blizzard, and a pretty mean pack of wolves, engulfs them, the films lines between thriller and horror begin to blur. It is the careful balance that Carnahan achieves that makes this film work and one of the aspects that allow this to work sp beautifully is the casting of the film.
It is hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Ottway, a older, wiser, man who has seen the harsher side of life, but who becomes remarkably optimistic, taking on the seemingly natural role of leader in a time of crisis. Only Neeson can believably fight of a pack of over-grown somewhat Twilight-ish looking wolves. (More on the CGI later.) It is a role that we have come to love Neeson for, older-wiser and equally strong and agile action-hero. His character is balanced out with Mulroney’s good-nature, Grillo’s cocky outl-look Robert’s philosophical outlook and Anderson’s humor.
Part two of what makes this film work is the editing. There is a parallel story being told as you watch the film, the back-story of Ottway (Neeson), a love story of sorts. He flashes back to scenes of a part love when unconscious, drifting off to sleep. It is a risky move to blend into a landscape of an action-horror-drama, but he manages to do so successfully. Another aspect that Carnahan has to balance carefully is the usage of the element of horror. It is sprinkled in so lightly that again it works, if he had been more heavy-handed the film would be an un-cohesive mess. Carnahan offsets the blood and gore aspect of the film with humor effectively never going to far with either element.
Okay, so back to the CGI. While the wolves are not quite as comical as those found in the Twilight series, one does have to wonder if some of the same effects people were on board with this production. These wolves are a bit supernatural — no they do not communicate through their thoughts, thankfully — but they are an naturally large size, and like the Twilight wolves bear a resemblance to a grizzly bear in stance. I am not a specialist in effects, but it seems that they could have at the very least not drawn parallels to the wolves found in Twilight. Who knows perhaps this team is fortunate to have never seen a Twilight films and thus unintentionally bringing the series to mind for the audience. (It is interesting to note that much is said re: their creation in the press notes.)
Neeson going hand-to-hand in combat with a pack of wolves and a pack of man is thoroughly entertaining. Be prepared to be unexpectedly sucked in by The Grey.