From day to day, our chest-thumping tendencies take a backseat as we reservedly clean out our kitty's litter, but that's why movies like The Grey are important. We're in charge here. We decide how much carbon to emit, and how many sad-eyed puppy commercials we're going to put on daytime TV set to that Sarah McLachlan song. Deep down you know that we make a big show out of saving the planet and all its furry inhabitants because we know that if they ceased to exist, we would have nothing to dominate. Sometimes it takes a two-hour lecture in the dark to help remind us that if we wanted to, we could wrestle bears shirtless in the rain or ride a cheetah in lieu of a car. And the poster child for making aggression against Mother Nature look good is the thinking man's action hero, Mr. Liam Neeson. No surprise there.
Ottway is the darkest character Neeson has ever played, and even as the hired wolf-killer protecting a shady Alaskan oil drilling team, he still has that Neeson-esque compassion and wit that brightens even this gruff, dangerous character. This is one of several surprises the movie springs on you that boosts it from being just a man-versus-wild B-movie flick into a worthwhile watch. Although I am not sure about whether or not rumors about the crew eating real wolves are true, I do believe it's safe to say that if you cross Liam Neeson, he will cook you and eat you. But he will probably feel kind of bad about it afterwards. That's just the kind of guy he plays.
Director Joe Carnahan punctuates this movie with visceral, overwhelmingly realistic scenes that easily take first place in the Use the Bathroom Before Seeing This Movie Contest. In his first film, Narc, he had Ray Liotta to send our adrenaline into the stratosphere. In this film, he has plane crashes, wolf attacks, and physics-defying escape attempts. The tight, disorienting shots combined with spectacular, deafening sound design made me feel like I needed reparations for the ordeal I went through when I was drilling oil in Alaska and my plane crashed. It took me awhile to recover from my post traumatic stress disorder. And when I did, I was pretending to box wolves, mindlessly pumped up from the hardcore nature of the excitement.
What's really amazing is that this film is more than just a bunch of yee-haw action. To screenwriters Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers' credit, I actually didn't mind listening to these guys talk. Of course there's a guy who has trouble with authority (Frank Grillo), a weirdo unsuited for life in the wild (Joe Anderson), the guy who loves his daughter (Dermot Mulroney), etc. But somehow their fireside chats about life without wolves creates something that's recently been missing from these kinds of simplistic movies--empathy. When Liam Neeson has cocktail bottles taped to his hands, it easily evokes the viewer's animalistic side, but on the path there, it has a lot of humanity.