Film: The Grey (2012)

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Film:

The Grey

Director: Joe Carnahan
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Distributor: Open Road Films

In The Grey, Liam Neeson leads an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks when their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness. Battling mortal injuries and merciless weather, the survivors have only a few days to escape the icy elements—and a vicious pack of rogue wolves on the hunt—before their time runs out.

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The plane crashes (boy, does it crash) in the remote Alaskan nowhere, and the rough-and-tumble oil wildcatters who survive must fight their way to safety. That in itself might be enough from which The Grey could fashion a suspenseful thrill-ride, but the movie has one more ace up its sleeve. Wolves! A pack of them, starving and considerably irritated that these outsiders have blundered into their territory. And while it is true that most real-world wolves are hardly man-eaters, director Joe Carnahan and cowriter Ian Mackenzie Jeffers are really not all that interested in reality. Despite some hair-raising moments and a healthy spattering of gore, The Grey is an existential action picture, and the wolves function only as all-purpose predator (being computer-generated, they never really look real anyway). What’s really at stake are the souls of these men—how they get along together, and how they face death. Yes, there is always something faintly absurd hanging around this movie; it’s like a Jack London story adapted by Luc Besson. But out of its pulpy mash, Carnahan extracts something gutsy. It certainly helps that he’s got the mighty Liam Neeson on board as the most capable of the survivors; Neeson exudes the kind of authority that the average action hero can only play-act. Dallas Roberts and Dermot Mulroney add color, and Frank Grillo jumps off the screen as the most belligerent of the desperate crew. It’s possible for a movie to have an absurd premise yet carve something unexpectedly philosophical out of that: The Incredible Shrinking Man and Rise of the Planet of the Apes come to mind. Add this one to that oddball list. —Robert Horton

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