Joe Carnahan is the director who gave us Narc, an immensely well done cop thriller starring Jason Patrick and Ray Liotta. If you’ve never seen it make a note to rent it the next time your looking for something to add to your Netflix queue. Joe Carnahan is also the guy who gave us The A-Team, that loud, obnoxious piece of popcorn entertainment that was a train wreck of a movie. When The Grey was released, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who pondered which Carnahan would be behind the camera this time around. Turns out it was the guy who gave us Narc, because The Grey is an expertly acted, moving work that is more dramatic than the advertisements let on. While the menacing wolves featured so predominantly in the marketing of the film are an integral part of the plot, there is so much more to The Grey that it’d be a shame if you disregarded this film as just another action movie.
Liam Neeson, a man who brings integrity to almost every project he’s in, leads an exceptional ensemble cast as John Ottway, a professional sniper who works for an Alaskan drilling company. His job is to shoot wolves that stalk the oil rig where he works, protecting the other men who work for the oil company. Those other men are a mix of family men and lowlifes, people willing to risk the elements and their lives to earn big bucks in the frozen tundra of the arctic circle. As The Grey begins, Ottway is at his lowest, distraught over his wife leaving him and ready to end it all. With a rifle in his mouth, he gets distracted by the sight of wolves wandering the perimeter of the refinery and opts to protect his fellow workers rather than put a bullet in his head.
Soon thereafter, Ottway and a group of workers board a plane destined for Anchorage. They never make it. A snow storm brings the plane down in the middle of nowhere, killing most of the passengers and crew. In a struggle of ego and the elements, the small group begin planning how they’ll survive. That’s when the first wolf attack occurs. A pack of hungry wolves begin picking off the men, one by one. Wolf expert Ottway deduces that the crash must have occurred near the wolves den and that the creatures will kill all the men unless they flee the crash site. He points out a patch of trees in the distance and feels it may offer protection. Acting as the de facto leader, six men set off in a devastating blizzard, hoping to reach the trees in time.
Although the film is an excellent thriller, what impressed me most were the scenes between the men in which they got to know each other and revealed intimate parts of their lives. Although it’s inevitable in a survivor movie for these type of scenes to be present, the ones in The Grey were handled with excellent writing and some exceptional acting. Surrounding Neeson are faces you probably won’t recognize. The one actor you may know is Dermot Mulroney, who brings a great deal of heart to his role of a father just wanting to get home to see his little girl. Dallas Roberts and Nonso Anozie may be known by people who watch a lot of television. They’ve appeared in AMC’s Rubicon and HBO’s Game of Thrones, respectively. The strongest of the small ensemble is Frank Grillo, who plays a hot headed thug and Ottway’s main antagonist. Grillo was also great in last year’s underrated MMA film, Warrior. We should all be on the watch to see what he does next. As for Neeson, well, he turns in another of his sturdy performances, bringing the right mix of gravitas and tragedy to Ottway. It’s a credit to the actor and Carnahan that every cast member shines.
Carnahan has really directed in a top notch film. Perfectly paced, he knew just when to ratchet up the tension and then pull back to give us insight into men and make us care for them even more. Moreover, he makes the film just as much about them overcoming their differences as he does them surviving the sub-zero temperatures and the impending attacks by those monstrous wolves. My only warning about the film is not to start it at 10 PM should you want to get to bed early. The film sucks you in and you won’t want to stop watching until the final credit rolls. And you should stay until the final credit plays.