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4 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Grey, The
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by Brett Gallman

"Punches with wolves."
4 stars

Movies like “The Grey” always have you subconsciously wondering what you’d do if you were suddenly plopped into an outrageous situation. In this case, though, it also provides the best answer for what you should do if you find yourself stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash, surrounded by wolves: hope that Liam Neeson and his particular set of skills (read: fists) are with you.

Neeson is a peculiar sort of “action star”--something about his dignified grace almost resists that term, which typically conjures up images of chiseled, artificial machismo. His Ottway (who is essentially a hired gun used by drilling companies to literally fend off wolves) is hardly swaggering with any sort of bravado during “The Grey,” even admitting that he’s “scared shitless” as he chastises one of his fellow survivors (Frank Grillo) for putting on one of those false displays of manhood. However, you’d never know it--there’s an unwavering cool about Neeson, who seems to have an answer at nearly every turn, knowing how to comfort a man during his death as deftly as he knows how to concoct bullet-tipped spears to keep the wolves at bay.

Playing up these elements is probably a bit of a disservice to “The Grey,” though. Yes, it’s an exciting and harrowing adventure that’s completely unflinching; in fact, it’s borderline horrifying at times, thanks in part to the grisly effects work of Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger (who mix honest-to-god prosthetics with CGI) and director Joe Carnahan’s eye for unsettling moments (such as the wolves’ eyes emerging from the darkness and another shot that sees the beasts fleetly moving in to attack). Sometimes, this does feel like a straight-up survival quest, and a bone-chilling one at that, as “The Grey” really surrounds you and comes at you at all sides, its vast, wooded landscapes filling you with dread, its sudden wolf attacks jolting you from your seat.

But as ferocious as “The Grey” is, it’s also a film that invites you to sit down by the fire, to drink in the lives of these characters suddenly thrust into this peril. It’s grown trite to say that a thriller’s best moments come when it settles down like this, but in this case, it’s true; actually, I think it might even be more apt to say that “The Grey” is an existential drama masquerading as a crisp, visceral thriller. The group (which begins as seven men before being whittled down over the course of 2 hours) is populated by everymen who look fondly upon the things they miss (and may never experience again)--some hope to be able to see their children again, while another just wants to bang one more girl (somehow, the film manages to consistently find warm humor in this grim place). Questions of faith and spirituality eventually arise, with the group being rather split on the matter; for some, their faith is essential and might be the only thing driving them to get out of this alive. For others, it’s hogwash--fate has thrown them into this position not out of cruelty, but out of mere chance.

Despite professing that the “air in his lungs” and the things that he can observe are the only real things that matter, Neeson is caught somewhere in between. From the moment we meet him, he’s seemingly presented as this cool Zen-master, the sort of guy who can stroll into a rowdy bar and completely ignore the fracas of guys beating the piss out of each other. We soon learn that his detachment is more forlorn than assured, as he’s tortured by the memories of his life back home, where he once had a wife before some strife befell their relationship. Now, he’s out at the end of the world, amongst thieves, criminals, and “assholes,” but supposedly right at home if we’re to believe what he says. When he reaches for his rifle and places it in his own mouth, we begin to wonder; he stops himself when he hears the howl of a wolf in the distance, with the irony being obvious. However, this isn’t just clever irony as much as it’s foreshadowing; that moment seems to awaken or stir something in Ottway’s soul--that primal instinct to trudge along that was instilled in him by his typically Irish father, who once wrote a poem whose final line becomes his son’s motto: “live or die on this day.”

Tales of man vs. nature usually boil down to such primal elements--life and death, instinct and reason, all the stuff you learned about whenever Jack London was brought up in school. All of that is found here, and I love that the film is keen enough to stay out of its own way--it’s whip smart, often skirting the usual beats and acknowledging that we’ve been here before. When you think this feels like “Alive,” one of the guys brings it up; just when you start to think that Neeson’s ingenuity would make MacGuyver jealous, that gets name-dropped too. Likewise, when you expect the film to deteriorate into paranoia-fuelled distrust and shouting matches, it does, but it gets this out of the way early on. Grillo is the requisite dissenter, the one who questions Neeson’s authority; in more schlock-filled drivel, he’s the guy you can’t wait to see get devoured by wolves in some Grand Guignol effects sequence.

Not so here, though. “The Grey” is above that, as it manages to be beautifully and naturally photographed (in glorious, subtly grainy Panavision) thriller on the surface; running underneath is an unexpectedly touching, emotional drama marked by fine performances and small, quiet moments. Carnahan resists letting this thing go to the dogs, as it were; it’s essentially played like a parable that tests his characters’ faith and endurance. We all wander in the wilderness and get thrown to the wolves at times in a metaphorical sense; here, that experience is rendered very real, and the film is rugged enough to keep from pandering. On some levels, this is a tough, ambiguous film, one that even resists saying that death is preferable to life, instead offering that it’s simply enough that one enters and embraces the fray.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23103&reviewer=429
originally posted: 01/28/12 02:58:23
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User Comments

3/24/18 morris campbell solid man vs nature flick 4 stars
3/18/15 Tony Excellent thriller but depressing. negative ending. 5 stars
2/28/13 ralph georgalis a fantastiic, frightning, spellbindinng, depressing, absorbing, epic that dares to explore 5 stars
2/11/13 roscoe Good, but overlong, predictable, and loses my interest in the last 40 minutes 3 stars
1/19/13 Joe smaltz Could have been a good movie, but needed a technical advisor. Just too crappy fantasy . 2 stars
12/05/12 yzer If the wolves don't look quite natural, it was intentional. 5 stars
8/26/12 David Pollastrini Great plane crash scene. 4 stars
7/20/12 Sean Harrison So far, the best thriller of 2012. 5 stars
6/21/12 Yannik marazia Amazing movie one of the best i've ever seen, and not because of the effects or action scei 5 stars
6/14/12 The Taitor Decent rental, good cinematography but shoddy cgi wolves and script, good ending 3 stars
5/27/12 mr.mike Quite good with Neeson fine as always. 4 stars
5/25/12 Kevin C scary as Hell! 4 stars
5/16/12 Kale A misrepresented waste of time! 1 stars
5/13/12 Monday Morning Screw you for demonizing wolves. 1 stars
3/08/12 G Scott Let the wolves win, Liam! 2 stars
2/08/12 al rudolf Not worth an ice cube. 1 stars
2/03/12 James Ragsdale Good, grim movie. Fine cinematography. 4 stars
2/02/12 Quigley A primal, relentlessly intense, bone-chilling thriller. Don't miss it. 5 stars
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  27-Jan-2012 (R)
  DVD: 22-May-2012


  DVD: 22-May-2012

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