While we might have some unseasonable warmth around here, “The Grey” brings unrelenting cold to the bigscreen, and I don’t just mean the temperatures.
A group of workers, including Ottoway (Liam Neeson), from a hellish oil pumping station are flying out for leave when their plans are derailed by the untimely and brutal crashing of their plane in the middle of the frozen wastelands of the far north. The survivors of the crash band together, with Ottoway taking charge early due to his experience as a wolf sniper, and try to get back to civilization, only to face cunningly ferocious wolves, harsh temperatures and unforgiving terrain.
Ottoway describes the men who occupy the station as being “unfit for mankind.” But even though these men are apparently the scum of the earth, the ones who manage to survive the horrific crash become likeable characters, if only because we want them to survive against the insurmountable odds they’re facing.
Against the survivors are all the forces of nature, chief among them, the wolves. Whereas Ottoway and his weary band struggle to survive in the frozen no man’s land, the wolves that follow them do just fine. No matter where the group goes, the wolves always seem to be there, howling and snarling from the darkness.
A particularly haunting scene comes during the first night when the wolves appear at the plane’s crash site, their eyes reflecting back the fires of the group’s torches in the night.
Joe Carnahan, director of “A-Team” and “Smokin’ Aces,” manages to give each of these characters their due time and personality in the film. So often in films like this we see a group of victims, names to be scratched off a list with some new grisly death scene dreamt up solely for the shock value. “The Grey” does an excellent job of making us care for each of these men.
While each of the characters does get a measure of depth, Ottoway gets the lion’s share of the attention. Throughout the film we are shown flashes of him and his wife, who he apparently sees every time he goes to sleep. On the brink of suicide before deciding to leave the station for civilization, he realizes he wants to live and see his wife again. We even get a glimpse into his childhood during a poignant campfire scene in which he tells the men about his father who, despite having a rough streak, wrote poetry.
“The Grey” is a cold film, never showing any real mercy to the characters and not cheapening itself with a storybook ending.
4 out of 5