, starring Liam Neeson, may be the most intense film I’ve ever seen.
Director Joe Carnahan presents a chilling tale of survival as a group of desperate men struggle to carry on in an unforgiving, frozen wilderness. This film is not for the faint-hearted. At times agonizing to watch, the story unfolds against the harsh Alaskan winter in a remote oil drilling station, and then in the vast Alaskan wilderness where the man vs. nature conflict becomes primal. Besides Neeson, the only name you’re apt to recognize in the cast is Dermot Mulroney, but the rest of the actors in the small, all-male cast also do a fine job. The film is a bit long and persistently somber, sometimes feeling more like an endurance contest than an evening at the movies.
Liam Neeson’s character, Ottway, is a lost soul, mostly alienated from the other lost souls working at this remote outpost. In voice-over, Ottway describes them as “not fit for human companionship.” Ottway -- suffering over the wife (Anne Openshaw, shown in flashbacks) who’s no longer in his life -- has taken this dead-end job as a hunter of wolves to protect the oil rig crews. Ottway may be a lost soul, but he’s also an “alpha” in the sense of being a leader and having an irresistible instinct for survival. When he and a few others survive a plane crash on the way back to civilization, he becomes the leader of this “pack” of men as they are stalked by an aggressive pack of wolves.
The title “Grey” doesn’t just refer to the species of wolf, it’s symbolic of the indistinctness of their own lives. Not only do they live physically apart from human society, they also live in an emotional void -- not even bothering to seek meaning. Being reduced to the most primitive state forces them to peel away the layers of arrogance and bravado and take an honest look at their lives. Ottway tells them that they must concentrate on the thing in their life that matters the most to find the strength to live. For some, that turns out to be a child, but for others, it turns out that nothing of real worth exists.
The crash survivors fight their own fear, the unyielding climate, the advancing wolf pack, and, of course, the indifference of nature. It becomes apparent that no species is favored over another, and the audience can guess that the battle against the elements and the wolves will come down to alpha vs. alpha. In spite of his despair, Ottway’s steely instinct to survive will compel him to continue against all odds. As far as cinematography goes, the scenery is as beautiful as it is deadly. If you don’t mind spending the duration of the film on the edge of your seat, you’ll experience a powerful story and some skillful performances. Let’s face it: Liam Neeson could recite the tax code and make it sound like poetry!