(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express on 26 May, 2012, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/the-grey/395315.html)
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, James Badge Dale
Director: Joe Carnahan
Rating: 4 stars
There’s something primordial about man-versus-beast, something that draws us into contemplation of the elements that make us, the circumstances that put us where we are, and the instincts that fashion our triumphs. We’ve sent beasts into extinction, and we’ve reared them into life. And every once in a while, a few of us will have an encounter that affirms Darwinian theory, that reminds us that this brutal world will chew us alive if we don’t fight back.
Directed by Joe Carnahan and based on the novella Ghost Walker by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, The Grey is a survival story that doesn’t shy away from grisly images and disturbing scenes. It is narrated by John Ottway (Liam Neeson), but assume nothing about the end. “I work security, protecting men from the dangers they cannot see,” he says, as he takes us to the oil rig in Alaska, where he and his buddies pump their bodies with alcohol to keep warm, and stories of home to stay alive.
They’re “men unfit for mankind”, he tells us. All that will change when disaster forces them to contemplate where they stand, who they are, and what they dream of. A group is headed home on vacation, when their tiny plane sinks into snow – chances are that by the time a rescue party finds them, they will be done in by the inclement weather; or something worse.
The something worse materialises in the form of seething packs of wolves, baring their teeth as they hunt down these aliens. From running for their lives when the wolves give chase, these men must turn to plotting their moves, as the pack hungrily trails them through the line of trees they’ve decided to follow.
As the wolves wander at the edge of the ring of fires the men light, we’re given a window into the lives of these six oil workers, led by Ottway. They dream poignantly of a day when they will sit by other fires, surrounded by family, and tell their grandchildren the story of their escape.
We know it will be a fight to the end, and we know it will be an engaging one. The film is wonderfully shot, with subtext written into the mise-en-scène. The wolves stalk their prey, waiting for the scent of death and weakness. They’re rarely seen in the frames, and are on the periphery of our imaginations just as they’re on the periphery of the film, ever present, and too dangerous to think about.
We see their eyes glinting in the fires, we see them clenching their jaws, and we see them training their killer instincts on the men that dare face them. We see what battling nature means in the final shot that is the privilege of the few who stay until the end of the credits.
The Verdict: It’s a film one must plunge into, and a film whose resolution will leave one fatigued. It’s a film one must not miss.