31 January 2012

The Grey

From left, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Liam Neeson and Nonso Anozie are shown in a scene from "The Grey."
Pushing 60, Liam Neeson has seen his career take an abrupt turn in recent years. "Taken" (2009) and "Unknown" (2011) established him as a box-office draw in the early part of the year and an unlikely action hero with a world-weary, working-class approach to beating up the bad guys.

"The Grey" emphasizes that world-weary quality. The actor, at his very best, draws from his own experience—mourning the 2009 death of his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, in a skiing accident—to portray Ottway, a lonely, brooding man who also has loved and lost.

Working with an Alaskan oil-drilling team, patrolling the perimeter, shooting the dangerous wolves that venture a little too close, Ottway is on the verge of suicide when we meet him. Stronger instincts kick in, though, when he and a handful of others survive a plane crash and are stranded in the harsh Alaskan wilderness. They must contend with both the elements and a pack wolves that doesn't take kindly to guests in its territory.

Though marketed as an action movie, "The Grey" is suprisingly contemplative and deceptively character-driven. Squabbling among the survivors and dealing with the wolves dominate the movie early on, but as it progresses—and the number of characters dwindles—it takes a turn toward introspection, showing us how these men react when pushed to the brink and, eventually, how each deals with the inevitably of his own demise.

The wolves are the antagonists; they are not monsters. They react on instinct developed over countless years. Just like Ottway and the others, their goal is survival. As much as anything else, "The Grey” is a testament to the awesome power of nature, brought to life through the vivid cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi. As far as we've come, as much as we've accomplished, we still are at its mercy.

Director Joe Carnahan, light years away from his previous film, "The A-Team" (2010), creates an aura of unrelenting danger, a sense of dread so oppressive it's almost a relief when the wolves make their move.

"The Grey" is a harrowing tale not necesarily of survival but of the will to survive and what happens when maybe that isn't enough.

Chalk up another winter win for Neeson.

Greg’s Grade: A-

(Rated R for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language. 117 minutes.)

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