January 30, 2012
I am a sucker for man-against-nature movies. I pretty much see them all, and hope for just two things: a great story, and as much realism as possible. I’m not sure if The Grey has enough of either.
Liam Neeson stars as a “wolf sniper” for an oil refinery. He hides in the woods in his massive, puffy white Canada Goose jacket and picks off stalking wolves with his rifle as they ferociously charge groups of men working on the oil pipeline.
We’re three minutes in and this is the first completely unrealistic element of the film. No lone wolf in its right mind would ever attack five huge men working with tools on a pipeline. Nonetheless, that’s Liam’s gig.
The action really takes off when the refinery crew board a plane in a snowstorm, bound for Anchorage. The plane horrifically crashes in the middle of a horrendous blizzard, and suddenly it’s the survivors versus the nastiest pack of wolves this side of Hades, which is possibly the metaphor the filmmakers were going for.
All of the crew and most of the passengers are killed in the outrageous crash, but Wolfsniper Liam Neeson survives and quickly takes charge of the rest of the rag-tag, shell-shocked survivors.
Almost immediately they are set upon by a bloodthirsty pack wolves from all angles, and yes, Liam Neeson fights a wolf with his fists when he discovers it munching ravenously on a human. Liam explains to the panicked survivors that the wolves don’t want to eat them; they simply want to kill them.
Neeson’s character then inexplicably convinces the survivors to leave the plane, trudging them through white-out conditions to reach the tree line where “they’ll be safe”.
Wha… why? Why leave the fuselage of the plane? The number one rule of survival in the elements is seek shelter. They had that with the plane and left it far behind, and with it seemingly any chance of rescue. That plan bites them in the ass… literally.
And here’s when the movie turns into a cross between Cujo, The Blair Witch Project, and Ten Little Indians. Characters are predictably picked off one by one from various gruesome deaths, though none perish or even suffer from frostbite, starvation, hypothermia, or exposure, the most common causes of death in frozen wildness situations.
Wait — am I being too nit-picky? Should I have suspended my disbelief and simply enjoyed the fright fest of the men at their campfire, sleeping on the snow, surrounded by what sounds like a gutteral Orc army from Lord of the Rings?
The filmmakers know that being attacked by wild animals is at the top of most peoples’ greatest fears, and for that reason we can’t look away from the screen (besides the guy in front of me who scrolled Twitter on his iPhone during any scenes with dialogue).
For anyone who has spent any time in the wilderness in the winter in BC, the mountainous backdrops are at once beautiful, familiar, and foreboding.
I really, really wanted to like The Grey, but wound up disillusioned and bemused by its premise. In its place, I would strongly recommend alternate, true-life man-against nature films, such as Sean Penn‘s Into The Wild or Werner Herzog‘s Rescue Dawn. And if you want to see what timber wolves are really like in the wild, check out Never Cry Wolf.
Have you seen The Grey? What did you think?