Yes, it’s true: Liam Neeson punches a wolf during the course of Joe Carnahan’s The Grey. But it should also be noted that the scene is pretty dark—probably to obscure the fact that he’s really punching a stuffed wolf head being thrust at him by an unseen stagehand. That, by the way, is par for the lupine course in this long and rather dreary exercise in the cinema of man vs. nature set in the wilds of the frozen North. Let it be recorded, however, that I am in the minority in finding this an unconvincing and singularly pointless slog of a movie—and one with a crap non-ending to prove that the movie is important and artistic.
I realize that much has also been made about Neeson taking the role of Ottway, an oil-company-contracted wolf hunter, and that it had special significance for him in that it allowed him to vicariously deal with the death of his real-life wife, Natasha Richardson. That, unfortunately, doesn’t make the film particularly good in and of itself.
The movie is written in the manner of a WWII picture about a bomber crew—a nice ethnic mix of character types crammed together in a high-pressure situation. In this case, it’s seven survivors of a plane crash carrying oil-drilling personel of the lower-class variety. The film goes out of its way to establish that these are all desperate men—at the end of their ropes in one way or another, even before their crash. Not surprisingly, the situation doesn’t immediately bring out the best in them. And to help settle that, the least bothersome or disturbed of the seven gets eaten by a wolf when he ill-advisedly takes a leak off by himself. Carnahan only wants the best of the blustery breast-beaters for the drama to come.
Essentially, the group is trying to cross the snowy Alaskan wasteland to get to some woods where they’ll theoretically stand a better chance of fending off the hairy horrors into whose domain they’ve intruded. Since Ottway is played by the movie’s star, it falls to him to become the group leader—though only after establishing himself as the alpha male (grunt, grunt). What we end up with is about 80 minutes of action stuff and about 40 minutes of not very interesting philosophizing about the nature of God, manliness and the meaning of it all. That would be bad enough, but, truth to tell, the action is only occasionally exciting.
Some of the scenes are pretty effective, I’ll admit. The plane crash is well accomplished and effective without turning into a special-effects show. Further, the photography is frequently creative and some of the images are quite striking, but the plain fact is that the wolves just aren’t all that convincing. Frankly, they’re not convincing much of the time, and that’s a singularly notable drawback in a movie where wolves are supposed to be the big menace. But all that aside, when you realize where this is going—and you realize it long before it gets there—it all becomes just too testosterone-fueled to take seriously. However, if you insist on finding out for for yourself, you’ll want to stick around through the credits for one final touch. Rated R for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language.