Mixed Tape Reviews: The Grey

Feb 1st, 2012 | By | Category: Entertainment

Liam Neeson Screenshot Grey

In this modern age of copious sequels, prequels and remakes based on ridiculously high concepts, The Grey gives audiences something we don’t see too often these days — an original movie based on a simple, albeit compelling idea.

A group of oil workers from the arctic survive a plane crash that leaves them stranded near a pack of deadly wolves. Without actually watching the movie, animal conservationists have made a stink about how wolves don’t randomly attack people, but the movie makes it clear these attacks aren’t random. Wolves will attack humans if they feel their territory – or “kill zone” – has been invaded by outsiders, and the vicious canines in The Grey most certainly feel invaded.

One of the invaders is Othway, who as fate would have it, made his career out of shooting wolves who posed a threat to his fellow oil workers as they serviced isolated pipelines. Othway is played by Liam Neeson, who has suddenly emerged as our generation’s most legitimate action star. Seasoned by a career starring mostly in dramas, his special talent involves taking a somewhat ridiculous premise and making us care so much that our minds wash over the more ridiculous plot elements. Case in point is Taken, a thriller where Neeson takes on Turkish gangsters and the entire French police force in order to rescue his virginal kidnapped daughter from the sheik who purchased her in an elaborate white-slavery ring.

Because Neeson was the actor who played the movie’s unstoppable vehicle of righteous vengeance, we rooted him on as he killed almost every single bad guy in the movie. Remove Neeson from that equation and insert another actor who passes for an action star these days like Jason Statham or Vin Diesel, and the dots would certainly disconnect for audiences. In real life, Neeson probably couldn’t win in a fight against either of these guys, but that doesn’t mean audiences wouldn’t believe he could anyway.

Directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan, The Grey does not so much require Neeson’s talents for suspending disbelief as it rewards them. While clearly the protagonist of a thriller, Othway is just as compelling as the roles Neeson would have played in the dramas that founded his career. In the opening scenes, he’s remorseful for having lost his spouse who left him for mysterious reasons and attempts to kill himself. He can’t follow through, and the next day he boards the plane that will soon leave him stranded in a frozen wasteland.

One of the points the movie makes that when Othway and the men stranded with him thought life was given to them, they took it for granted. Othway was even ready to end his life the night before he boarded the plane. But now that his life could be torn from him at any minute by bloodthirsty wolves or the frozen climate, the only thought that consumes him is survival. This is one of the many psychological insights Carnahan and co-writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers infuse into their screenplay. Perhaps the greatest insight comes at the movie’s final moments. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen the movie, but I was amazed by the statement the filmmakers made about the courage of their protagonist in what could very well be the final moment of his life. I was so amazed that when some of my fellow audience members acted befuddled, I immediately wanted to leave the theater so I didn’t have to listen to their foolish complaints.

We expect movies to end happily, and for action thrillers, this means the hero must achieve some sort of triumphant victory regardless of how unlikely that might be. What we don’t realize is that winning is easy. Are we so afraid to consider failure – or in this case death – that we reject stories where characters make a final stand in a fight they will likely lose?

Since any film released in January is ineligible for the current awards season, studios typically view it as a “dump month” for lackluster product. That said, Joe Carnahan’s The Grey manages to be a better film than half of the movies nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars.

For more Mixed Tape wonders, visit the Mixed Tape Productions official website.

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One Comment to “Mixed Tape Reviews: The Grey”

  1. Yanni says:

    Great review, Joe. My only complaint was that the movie was a little predictable (people die when you think they're going to die), but otherwise a very good movie. It was much more cerebral than I expected it to be and it wasn't heavy handed as these kind of movies can get. You're right, another actor and this is an entirely different film. Liam Neeson is perfect for it.

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