(Published in The Sunday Guardian on May 27, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/neeson-passes-a-gritty-test)
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, James Badge Dale
Director: Joe Carnahan
Rating: 4 stars
A friend who watched The Grey after its international release months ago, summed it up thus: “Liam Neeson is SUCH A BOSS.” Having watched the film now, I find it hard to go beyond that very teenage statement. Men will want to be led by Neeson-as-Ottway, women will want to bed Neeson-as-Ottway, and the wolves will want to be fed him and his men. Yeah, they don’t care.
The starkness of the film’s landscape hits us when we meet John Ottway (Liam Neeson) in an oil rig in Alaska. This is where the world’s discards, failures and accursed go to make money. Leaving sunny valleys for snowbound wilderness and the comfort of home for the emptiness of this amphitheatre, the men we meet are the ones that will go the extra thousand miles for deliverance. Some are punishing themselves, the others are dragging their families back from the promise of poverty.
In this land where toiling at the rig is a break from shivering in bed and vice versa, the men find solace in each other’s company. The rare trip home is an oasis in the bleakness of their world. When their flight crash lands on one such treat, and sinks into fast-falling snow, the men are faced with a task that calls for as much physical endurance as it does mental strength.
They can’t hope for rescue. They must take their chances against the weather and time. An incident that turns tragic tells them they’re not alone. We see the wolves when they begin closing in on the six-man band led by Ottway, from different directions. The men scramble in despair, as we watch in chilling fascination.
The story unfolds with unforgiving pragmatism, and its only moments of romance and softness are in the lives of the men, their histories, their hope. It drags them into brutal circumstances, and examines human nature in that light. Is manliness to be found in the courage it takes to beat one’s destiny, or the courage it takes to accept it? What do our lives mean to us? Is suicide a way of claiming our right to choose the time and manner of our deaths? Is battling for life human instinct, or indicative of our desire to live?
The film leaves us torn. You know it makes sense for the wolves to win. But the part of you that believed in fairy dust and magic beanstalks is rooting for the men. And whichever side you’re on, the end will surprise you – provided you stay till after the credits.
The Verdict: This encounter with the wild will leave you in awe.