The Grey is not fun. That’s different, mind you, than saying it’s not good. But for an adventure movie about a group of plane-crash survivors being hunted by wolves, this is heavy stuff.
Liam Neeson stars as John Ottway, a member of an Alaskan oil-drilling team who has an odd job: while the men work in the field, he hides with a rifle and shoots down the wolves that regularly attack. An early scene of Ottway kneeling over his latest kill, with a hand on the beast’s side as it raises and lowers with its final breath, is an indication of what the movie will be: grim, mournful, full of death.
Within this somber framework, The Grey is still rousing. In staging the plane crash itself, director Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) melds a dream Ottway is having about his wife with the details of the crash, so that we experience the chaos of the incident as Ottway does: in baffled, waking moments. The inclusion of the wife (Anne Openshaw) also lends an emotional undercurrent to what could have been a purely visceral action scene.
As for the wolves, they’re a haunting presence, never more so than the sequences in which you can only hear, not see them. As they pick off the band of survivors one by one, the movie trudges its way to the inevitable standoff between Ottway and the wolf pack’s alpha. Without giving away what happens, I’ll say that the final moments of The Grey aren’t those of your average adventure movie either.
Also unexpected is the heavy-handed spirituality Carnahan lends to the proceedings. There are a few earnest prayers, as well as an awkwardly staged campfire scene in which Ottway and his fellow survivors take turns espousing on the validity of having “faith.” Ottway, you see, isn’t only trying to escape a pack of vicious carnivores. He’s having an existential crisis about the tragedies life brings, and the role God plays in “allowing” them. I guess you have to admire Carnahan for taking on such big questions. I’m just not sure he finds a way to answer them via a combination of “When Animals Attack!” and “Survivor.”