When I first started seeing promotional materials for Liam Neeson's latest vehicle The Grey (directed by Joe Carnahan of A-Team infamy), I couldn't help but feel a little fed up at Neeson's recent role choices. What happened to the good old days of Schindler's List, Nell and Gangs of New York? Since when is he a Hollywood action hack? Well, when the reviews started coming in I decided to give it a chance. And, it's actually a damn good movie, and a surprisingly meaty role. Hit the jump for my review.
In The Grey, Liam Neeson plays a mysterious character, an oil worker, who has to lead a band of fellow ruffians out of an icy hell after their plane crashed on the way to a job somewhere in Alaska. As if the ice isn't enough, they crashed in the territory of a pack of nasty wolves. So yes, things were not peachy. What follows is your typical survival adventure, with death and conflict aplenty. What makes it good? Well, not only is it the first good survival adventure film I've seen in ages, but the characters are solid, and their various back stories make for some compelling viewing. Needless to say, Liam Neeson is outstanding as Ottway, a man haunted by something substantial, even though we don't really know what that something is.
Apart from the characters and a host of convincing performances, The Grey boasts some excellent cinematography and beautiful scenery. It was filmed on location in Smithers, British Columbia, and all the ice is real. Temperatures in the region of -40 Celsius lend a startling realism to the atmosphere. Sometimes fake snow in a studio just doesn't cut it, and in this case it shows. Okay, the wolves weren't perfect. I read somewhere that they used a combination of real wolves, mock-ups and CGI. It's miles better then that Twilight nonsense, but I wish someone could figure out how to train the things properly. Now that would make for some pretty convincing (and hairy) situations!
Where The Grey wins though is not in the technical department. It wins because here is this stock standard survival film, but with something more than just a man vs nature theme. There is a real sense of introspection, spirituality almost. Putting a finger on this aspect is not easy, but I felt a little strange when the end credits started rolling, and it took me a while to shake that feeling. That must mean the film has succeeded on some unexpected level. That said, it's still no cinematic triumph, but The Grey is an unashamedly good movie that will be worth almost anyone's time. If you're tired of superheroes, kids killing each other, wizards and vampires, take a trip to the cinema and enjoy this good old fashioned movie movie.
Oh, and here are two closing thoughts. One, thank heavens Bradley Cooper wasn't cast in Neeson's part (he was replaced). It would have been a disaster. Two, there is another scene at the end of the credits. Stay for it if you wish.
7.5 out of 10