Friday, January 27, 2012

Wolves Are The New Great White Shark: The Grey

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Judging from the title, and a trailer featuring Liam Neeson amongst a grizzled cast of two and four-legged creatures, I assumed The Grey was about a guy who fights wolves with his grey hair, and some bottles of tiny airplane booze. Turns out, that's pretty much correct!

Neeson stars as Ottway, a wolf sniper working at what appears to be some kind of refinery in Alaska. His job is to shoot wolves that get to close to the workers. He's also suicidal, which isn't the best state of mind for a guy who carries a gun for a living.

The men he works with are identified as losers, ex-cons, and society's cast-offs. Nights at the local watering hole seem to erupt into brawls on a routine basis, and don't do much for Ottway's state of mind. He is forever pining after a woman, presumably his wife, who is no longer in the picture, and he clutches a note he's written to her, repeatedly reading and re-writing it via voice-over.

But when the plane carrying him and a dozen or so co-workers crashes in the snowy Alaskan pit of nowhere, Ottway's suicidal tendencies are cast aside, and a will to live kicks in. This is a good thing, since they have no way to contact help, a blizzard's on the way, and Ottway and the survivors are being stalked by wild wolves.

The good news, obviously, is that Ottway kills wolves for a living. The bad news is, he doesn't have a gun. Thus he must lead his band of men to safety using his wits, an understanding of the hunting behavior or wolves, and a whole lot of hope.

Soon, the number of survivors begins to shrink, and the number of wolves begins to grow. Apparently, if this movie and the 2010 horror flick Frozen are any indication, wolves want nothing more out of life than to eat as many people as possible. Wolves are the new great white shark.

About 30 minutes into the movie I realized it was pointless to try and remember any of the names of the surviving men following Neeson to their dooms, but can tell you Dermot Mulroney, Alicia Florrick's brother, and, (briefly), the dude from "Rubicon" are amongst them.

When explaining the plot to a friend, his immediate reaction was, "Wow. Why would anyone want to sit through that?," and he has a point. This is not a feel good movie. Neeson's character is a depressive suffering a crisis of faith, there's a guarantee not all of his fellow survivors are going to make it out alive, and even if they do, it's not like their lot in life was that great a thing to return to.

It's like a really depressing episode of "Man Vs. Wild," paired with The Edge, that weird survival film starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin.

On the other hand, there are moments of genuine thrills, Neeson gives a riveting performance, and he does eventually fight a wolf with nothing but a knife and tiny broken bottles of airplane booze. (Although, come on. Doesn't writer and director Joe Carnahan know they only serve booze in tiny plastic bottles now?)

As a foot note: I always stay until the end of the credits, even if the credits are in another language. I do it partly because I'm just OCD, and feel the need to see every minute of a movie, and I also do it because you never know when the director might tack on something at the very end. At The Grey press screening I went to, I was the last person to leave the theater, and, indeed, there is a little something tacked on to the end of the movie, and it actually might be kind of important, although, I couldn't exactly say how. So, if you do make it through this long, cold, and bleak film, try and stick it out just a little bit longer...and then explain to me what the hell that last bit was all about.

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