Sometimes a movie builds and builds until you wonder if you will ever get any release — and then the rug is pulled out from under you. I think the master of this in modern times is Darren Aronofsky, but perhaps this movie is a good example as well.
The Grey stars Liam Neeson as Ottway, a man hired by an Alaskan energy company to kill wolves that attack workers along the pipeline. When Ottway and his fellow hired guns are flying back home, their plane hits a terrifying blizzard and crashes into the Alaskan tundra, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. With only a few survivors and limited resources, they must decide whether to stay and risk death by freezing, or try to search for civilization and possibly miss any search parties. But then they see the wolves … Ottway tells the others that they will be fine most likely. Wolves will only attack them if they are near the den, then they will retaliate. But, of course, the wolves are indeed restless and angry.
Now the survivors must fight to survive, against the cold and fury of nature, or perhaps against their own fears. The Grey is a movie that seems a bit like it might be “Liam Neeson Punches Wolves,” but that is just scratching the surface. Each survivor has a backstory, something that drives them to live or die, and throughout the film, heavy concepts are discussed: Faith, family, the point of living, and if hope can survive the worst life brings. The survivors are played by various actors of minor note, but the standouts are Dermot Mulroney and Dallas Roberts, who play men with unknown histories but enormous strengths of will. As this movie went on, it just got better and better. There were several times I was worried it would take the easy or cliched way out — but then it surprised me by its daring.
The cinematography is breathtaking, showing the dangerous beauty of winter and the terror of darkness. All in all, this is a movie that is full of surprises, and more than a few jumps, but with a formidable will and spirit that drives it. Of course, this is Liam Neeson’s show, and without giving anything away, he is brilliant in it. It’s hard to see what emotions he’s taken from real life to portray this character, but I can’t say more without spoilers. Also: Don’t forget to stay past the credits for one final scene. So far, this is easily the best movie of the year — but it’s still only January, so we’ve got a ways to go.