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Movie Review: The Grey

This weekend's movie selection was Liam Neeson's The Grey.  I enjoyed the movie, but I think I can only recommend it to a select audience.  Check out the red band trailer below, and I'll delve into the review.

I grew up reading a lot of Jack London novels.  I really enjoyed White Fang, Call of the Wild, and even To Build a Fire.  The Grey feels a lot like a modern day London tale.  The story takes place in the frigid Alaskan north.  Nesson is a tasked with protecting oil/pipe line workers from wolf attacks.  I know that sentence sounds a little cheesy, but I assure this film is not. 

Right from the begining it is clear Nesson has some issues.  He feels out of place with a group of presumed ex-cons and dudes that come from questionable backgrounds.  He also keeps flashing back to lover, and it is clear Nesson is hurting. 

Nesson boards a plane full of shady guys heading back to the civilized part of Alaska.  It is snowing like hell outside, and I'm pretty sure you can guess what happens next.  The plane crash is jarring and filmed incredibly well.  Nesson flashes in and out of flashbacks to his lover, and when he comes to covered in snow from the crash, it is very intense.  This was probably one of my favorite sequences of the movie.

It is blizzardy outside and Nesson and about eight guys live through the crash.  The wolves come out quite quickly, and the are nasty.  I've been told that all the wolves are real, and not CG.  Nesson (resident wolf expert), explains that they might be near the wolf den and thus the wolves will do anything and everything to eliminate any potential threats.

The wolves in this film are scary.  At times their presence feels more like a monster movie with obscure shadows and sounds coming from the darkness.  There is a spooky scene from the trailer above where you only see sets of glowing eyes in the darkness, which is only compounded later in the film when the whole forest erupts with howling.

As I've mentioned in my Haywire and Drive reviews, the hyper realism is also greatly apparent in The Grey.  This is the film's greatest strength and weakness at the same time.  The wolves look real (because they are), and everyone looks cold and uncomfortable.  When the wolves pick off the guys it is visceral; lots of close hand held filming, and a ton of gore and blood.  If you ever seen one of those National Geographic vids (like the one above) you know how great the wolves hunt animals... or people in this film.

Because the hyper realistic moments shine so bright, the Hollywood-esce moments seem to kill the mood almost instantly.  The guys wade through knee deep snow, but yet when the wolves come the snow instantly becomes hard pack, and they can run away.  There is never any shortage of dry firewood, and building a fire happens almost instantaneously.  Worst of all Nesson takes a spill in an icy river and gets out of the water and keeps on going, as if nothing happened.

I liked the characters quite a bit, and they all felt like real guys rather than Michael Bay's "Armageddon style" stereotypes.   The men all felt like real people who would in fact work in the oil industry.  There was quite a bit of "camp fire talk" which I found to be a great way to get to know the characters and felt like real conversations.  Nesson is harder than rocking horse crap, and he definitely has a laminated man card in this film.  He is incredibly believable and I never once questioned his character. 

This film is very entertaining, with some very suspenseful and intense moments.  The third act seemed to drag a bit, but it wasn't terribly slow.  So the $15 question, "should you see the film?"  Well, if you dig the Jack London, man vs. nature kind of stuff you will like this film. 

Mrs. Foxtrot wasn't a big fan of this film, and I can understand why a lot of folks won't like it.  Without giving away any spoilers, the ending is a bit controversial.  If I had to guess, the film didn't originally end that way, and I'm sure we'll see a director's cut that ends differently on DVD/Blue Ray.  Anywho, the ending will make some folks mad, and the drag in the third act may push it over the edge.  Personally, I kind of liked the ending, and if you like London I would recommend this film.

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