By Tommy Bond, Film Critic
When I was younger, I read a book called “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. I was riveted by the against-all-odds tale of wilderness survival, about a boy who makes it in the woods for months with just a hatchet to help him get by.
If that boy had grown up and taken a job sniping hungry wolves in the bleak Alaskan wilderness, Joe Carnahan’s The Grey just might be about him.
It stars Liam Neeson in a thoughtful, crushing performance as Ottway, who finds himself trapped in an icy hell after a grisly plane crash. He finds six other survivors, all of them oil men on a break from the job. It looks like they won’t be making it home as soon as they thought.
With Ottway’s guidance, they utilize their surroundings and strike up a plan to figure out where the plane crashed and, above all else, to survive. They make a fire with the jet fuel, snack on the airline’s complimentary dinners, and warm up with the mini-bar’s offerings.
It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t below freezing and dropping. And of course there are the wolves, too. Hungry and territorially pissed off.
So, the men run for the woods. Maybe it will be safer, maybe it won’t.
The snow is thick and if anyone has ever tried to run a distance in snow you know how horrible this can be. My legs ached just watching them run for the trees.
Most of them make it.
This is where the film lights its fuse and the sparks start to fly. What follows is riveting filmmaking, inspired even.
The Grey is a slick adventure film about survival, humanity, and what we’re capable of when we’ve reached the absolute end of our rope. Are we any better than the animals that ruthlessly pursue our heroes, or are we just pretending?
Brilliant cinematography (the eyes and foggy breath of the wolves will chill you to the bone) and storytelling set this one apart from the crappy masses of “Man vs. Wilderness” films, as it hardly ever slips into cliche or hackneyed expectations.
It even stretches its reach as far as seeming somewhat existentialist at times.
The film takes time to ponder the meaning of it all, to dwell on the pain and possibility of dying alone. Death looms heavy.
As an audience we are challenged to think even more, as the title is never made clear. What is “The Grey”? Do we want to go there?
This is one shocking, surprising, and completely brutal film to kick off 2012. If you’ve been looking for a reason to avoid the forest, this is it. Jaws did it for the ocean, Psycho did it for showers, and The Grey will do it for the woods. Don’t miss it!
Rated R for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language.
Running Time: 117 Minutes.
Released in theatres: January 27th, 2012.