It seems like Liam Neeson is everywhere these days. Already famous for his roles as Oskar Schindler, Qui-Gon Jin, and Ra’s al Ghul, Neeson gained even more exposure as an action hero after 2008’s surprise hit Taken. Since then, the Irish born act has appeared in similar action packed movies like Clash of the Titans, The A-Team, and Unknown. As thrilling as these movies may be, they aren’t exactly good (I couldn’t even finish Clash of the Titans). I was afraid that The Grey might fall into absurdity like the rest of those films, but fortunately I was mistaken.
The Grey is the story of a lonely man named John Ottway. He is a contract hunter whose job is to protect oil workers from the Alaskan wildlife (i.e. wolves). We are first introduced to Ottway in the middle of a suicide attempt. Just as he’s about to pull the trigger, we hear the howl of a wolf, and obviously Ottway has a change of heart.
The next day our hero and the rest of the workers embark on a flight back to civilization. Everyone knows that the plane crash is coming because we know its a survival movie. What I wasn’t expecting was just how realistic the plane crash scene would be. As someone who is already afraid of flying, this scene was definitely powerful. This plane crash makes those from Castaway and Lost seem tame in comparison.
Once on the ground, the cat and mouse game begins. A couple weeks ago I saw Neeson appear on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon where they discussed the film. Jimmy remarked, “It’s like Jaws with wolves.” While this is certainly an oversimplification, it does illustrate how and why the wolves are so frightening. Like with Jaws, the fear in The Grey is built around what we don’t see. It’s all about creating moments of great tension. Much like the famous shark, we really don’t see much of the wolves on camera. Between those moments of great tension and action, The Grey contains important scenes of human struggle and heartbreak. It also showcases Liam Neeson’s exemplary talent as an actor, especially during a scene in which he describes to a mortally wounded companion what dying feels like.
I keep asking myself, “Is The Grey an action movie reaching for some depth, or is it a deep movie disguised as an action movie?” The more I think about it, and the way the film ends, the more I lean towards the latter. This isn’t just a dumb action movie. The Grey asks fundamental questions about existence like, “What is fear?”, “What is the nature of death?” and “Who should you believe it, God or yourself?”. What I enjoyed about this movie was that it leaves us with more questions than answers.
My advice is to see this movie now while it’s still in theaters. You need the big sound of a theater to get the full effect of the plane crash and the wolves. Watching it on DVD just won’t be the same. Also, make sure you stay after the credits! Although brief, this short final scene tells us a great deal.