Make no mistake, though, this film is not for the weak of heart, nor is it for people who hope that life will give them a break sooner or later -- because from start to finish -- things just seem to get continually worse for the movie’s plane crash survivors.
In the lead is Liam Neeson as John Ottway. At 60 years of age Neeson still has the charisma that outdoes that of younger Hollywood actors, only now, he has become even more enigmatic and awe inspiring. He emits a sense of true strength that makes you feel you would entrust your life to him, and it is exactly this feeling which makes him carry this film entirely on his shoulders.
Ottway is a marksman who lives in Alaska and works for an oil company. His job is mainly to shoot wolves that might pose a threat to the company’s oil rig workers. He is a lone wolf who has demons that never leave him alone. His philosophical and emotional issues are very important to the plot because they provide the foundation for the remainder of the film, mainly the challenges that he will have to face.
Ottway and several workers head for a weekend visit to a nearby town when their plane is involved in a horrible crash and there are only seven survivors, including our man. The plane has crashed in Alaska’s deep wilderness and the freezing cold is only one of the elements that these men have to worry about. The main problem is that the crash site is smack in the middle of the territory of a pack of mean wolves who in the name of protecting their territory start attacking the men. Ottway is the only one who has any knowledge about wolf behavior so he naturally becomes the leader of the group in their challenge for survival.
Wolves are very smart animals, as the film shows us, and they apply a strategy to each move since they are impeccable hunters. While the men try to find a way out of this sub-zero no-man’s-land, the wolves silently follow them and kill them off, one by one. Who will be the last man standing, or will there be any men left standing at all?
The concept of man against nature, even in this day and age when man has almost full control of earth, is still a relevant one. Once we get rid of technology, it seems like our chances of survival are slim. As one watches “The Grey” it becomes even more evident that nature does not take sides and does not offer compassion to the weak. The wolves are a symbol of the overpowering relentlessness of nature; their actions are not out of revenge or spite, all they want is to protect their territory. They kill because it is their nature to do so.
Director Joe Carnahan is very smart in utilizing the wolves more like a dark shadowy motif that we never completely see, as opposed to offering in-your-face graphics that bombard you with fearsome, demonic creatures. The absent-presence of the wolves makes the film even stronger because the feeling of uncertainty and desperation becomes more vivid as you try to imagine how the survivors must be feeling. The film is incredibly realistic, there are no supermen here who can immediately handle what life throws at them and their struggle in nature is one that is full of hardship and most of the time failure.
“The Grey” is a film that resonates with the viewer. It is superbly shot, acted and edited, plus it relies on a strong script that refuses to take its audience for granted. It’s most admirable aspect is that it is not apologetic about its realism, which could be mistaken for pessimism. But most importantly, it is thanks to the unquestionable talent of Neeson with his every movement and word that this film’s bar is raised several notches. Neeson transforms this thriller into a philosophical contemplation about the role of man in nature.