Neeson plays the role of an Irish marksman, John Ottway, employed to protect oil workers from roving wolves in the remote Alaskan wilderness. He’s lived a varied life, but now, up in this hostile wilderness, he’s running away from his life, from his pain. We get the sense that something has come between his wife and himself, something that he can’t bridge, and as such, he’s lost himself in the far north, and he intends never to come home. It’s in these opening scenes of The Grey that you get the sense that it’s going to be an amazing film, but not in the way the marketers have lead you to believe.
Ottway joins a planeload of roughnecks on their way back to civilisation, but on route, the plane goes down in the midst of the bleak snowy wasteland. It’s here that we get a taste of director Joe Carnahan ability to force you onto the edge of your seats, as the plane crash is the most intense and unrelenting scenes of aviation carnage I’ve yet to see on the big screen. Not for the destruction of life, but for the sheer terror of focusing on one mans struggle to stay alive as his world disintegrates around him.
Carnahan mixes up intensity with moments of profound humanity as Ottway comforts a fellow passenger as he lies dying. You get the sense that Ottway has a lot of secrets but a huge amount of compassion.
And then the wolves come.
And the film kicks it up a gear.
But Carnahan never lets the film get out of control.
As graphic and genuinely terrifying as the wolves are when they attack, this is not a film that will sate any bloodlust that you may have, Rather it’s a film that takes a long, honest look at human will, the hearts of man, and to a degree, faith.
It’s also stunningly beautiful. Shot in sweeping Arctic wilderness, The Grey manages to juxtapose the intense beauty with the desolate hopelessness of the survivors situation. Carnahan uses the scenery as a backdrop to show how small we really are, but uses the threat of the wolves and human instinct for survival to show just what we are capable of.
On the one hand it’s a taught survival horror, on the other it’s a breathtaking exploration of humanity. It makes you hold your breath in anticipation, then takes you breath away with a ferocity that may well keep you up at night. And all along the way, Liam Neeson controls the pace, narrates and owns the film. It is without a doubt, Neeson’s finest performance, and the film is a rare beauty of it’s genre with an ending that is perfect for the story that’s been told.
R16 Offensive language and content that may disturb.
Reviewed by: Jonathan Read