Simplicity in storytelling of 'The Grey'

Liam Neeson stars in "The Grey." SOURCE OPEN ROAD FILMS
February 6, 2012

With his predilection for films calling for brute everyman physicality (usually involving good old-fashioned, throat-punching revenge), Liam Neeson is this generation's Charles Bronson.

He began his penchant for pec-flexing pics in 2007 with "Taken," returning last year with "Unknown," and now heading into the wild this year with "The Grey."

He reteams with his "A-Team" director Joe Carnahan, a reunion that may have many amped to see ass-kicking, but they will be quite surprised that "The Grey" is quite a different shade of action picture.

There is a simplicity to its storytelling: Neeson plays Ottway, a haunted hunter in the barrens of Alaska. Ottway is paid to snipe at wolves who randomly race toward workers in a remote oil-pumping facility, but he can't stop longing for a lost love, and the isolation of the landscape helps not at all with his pining.

On a routine trip back to civilization, Ottway and a plane full of other self-proclaimed miscreants take a nosedive into the middle of icy nowhere. There are but a few survivors, and it's not long before Mother Nature starts dog-piling disasters on them: blizzards, scarcity of food, lack of shelter, dizzying heights and, most notably, wolves. Lots and lots of nasty, massive, tenacious wolves.

And while the man-versus-nature story is relatively straightforward, it manages to make the crash survivors more than chew toys for the ravenous lupines. We are invited to sit around the campfire with the men and learn of their fears, their loves, their losses, and each is given shades of complexity beyond what their initial stereotype may suggest.

Neeson, of course, is right in his wheelhouse. His hulking mass is intimidating, while his eyes cast a soulful glare. The others actors are well suited for their roles as well, but it is the director who adds just the right touches to create the necessary realism that helps make "The Grey" engaging on many levels.

Director Carnahan, who also cowrote the script, paints even his most picturesque vistas in drab, bloodless colors. While this may seem to be a deficit, it actually adds to the lead characters' despair. He also coats his actors with flecks of ice and windburned skin that make us believe they could actually be stranded on a patch of savage tundra.

Granted, none of it is very uplifting, as it plays out like Bear Grylls' worst nightmare realized. But if you are in the mood for a more Nietzschean spin on man's place in the wild, "The Grey" has much to offer.

Many may want their tales gift-wrapped and delivered with a pretty bow, and for that kind of action, I suggest browsing Michael Bay's filmography. But if you like your action a bit more primal, "The Grey" is your color of choice.

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