Liam Neeson channels his inner badass in The Grey, a brutal and thrilling tale of survival in the cold, harsh landscape of Alaska. Taking what should be a very ridiculous premise, director Joe Carnahan infuses an unnerving amount dread and brutal suffering to make a film brimming with originality and stripped-down thrills, featuring Liam Neeson as his most badass self.
The film opens deep in Northern Alaska at an oil drilling site, where Liam Neeson plays Ottway, a man commissioned to protect the drilling workers, a group of rough ex-cons and outcasts with nothing to lose, working, living — and fighting — together on the frigid tundra. As the movie opens, Neeson provides us with some voiceover work to give the audience a basis for his character and how he ended up with a job “at the end of the world.” The voiceover doesn’t quite work, but it also doesn’t completely ruin the opening, thanks largely to the very effective camerawork employed by Carnahan to capture the environment surrounding Ottway.
On a plane ride from the drilling site to Anchorage amidst a storm, a spectacular crash abandons a small group of survivors, including Ottway, in the middle of the rough, harsh Alaskan wilderness. It is the intensity of this crash scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film, as the crash is truly visceral and intense, not merely visually, but in the terrific sound design of the scene. Ottway quickly demonstrates his knack for survival as he gathers a band of survivors. These include terrific character actors, mainly Durmot Mulroney (Zodiac), Frank Grillo (Minority Report), Nonzo Anozie (Atonement), Dallas Roberts (3:10 to Yuma), James Badge Dale (Shame), almost all of whom offer additional color and a unique perspective to the film.
Carnahan directs The Grey with a relentless ferocity, throwing every manner of nature-born villains at these survivors, from the harsh elements, to an angry pack of vicious wolves that haunt the group of survivors. There are times when some of these threats don’t feel all-too-real, but for the most part the lack of a true villain is an effective twist on the thriller-genre. Liam Neeson puts the film on his shoulders at times, as he is almost too-obviously suitable for such a role, offering his trademark Taken-fierceness to the proceedings.
Thanks in large part to the effective camerawork of Carnahan and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, none of this seems too over-the-top, and even when at times the situations don’t seem to be very realistic, it never takes the audience out of the movie. Neeson and the impressive supporting cast give great, reactionary performances that aptly portray the horrible predicament these characters find themselves in.
Despite an almost ridiculous plot, the entire cast and crew create for a very real and frightening portrayal of the harsh, unforgiving nature of survival. Often brutal and legitimately thrilling, The Grey is a shocking and impressive portrait of man’s most basic instinct: survival.
Rated: R (for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language.)
The Grey opens nationwide January 27th.