Jeez, what a bleak movie.
I’m impressed though, this is a great movie. I just hadn’t expected this level of bleakness and grit. I thought I was going to watch a regular Liam Neeson film. You know, in which he is a troubled single man with a daughter and he is going to take action. Well, in The Gray he is also a troubled single man, but this movie is a different beast. It stands above the regular Neeson action movies as something special.
From the first scenes it becomes clear that this movie is going to go deeper, to darker places, than Neeson’s other action movies. His character John Ottway is ready to commit suicide, but the plot prevents it happening, and instead the story awakens in him the primal urge to fight to stay alive.
In the first half of the movie, there is a chilling scene that really grabs you by the throat, that really explains to you that this movie is about to look death straight in the eye. After an accident, a guy is deadly injured and he is panicking because he doesn’t know what is happening. And Neeson bends over him and explains to him calmly and compassionately: “You are going to die.” “It’s ok. It will just glide over you.” And the film takes a bloody long time showing the guy dying with Neeson talking soothingly to him with his deep voice. This is the kind of movie that The Grey is about.
Add to that Alaska in winter with biting winds, blizzards and being hunted by wolves who kill members of the group one by one. The movie is an endless fight for survival in which the people are stripped naked psychologically. The landscapes of Alaska in winter are gorgeous and arresting for being so inhospitable.
I think this movie would be much higher regarded, were it not for two recurring criticisms that everyone seems to stumble over.
The Grey attracted a lot of criticism for its display of wolf behavior. A real wolf pack would never act as aggressively as the one in the movie did. I am perfectly ready to believe that this is the case, but it didn’t harm my “enjoyment” (if that is the word) of this movie. The wolf pack is a tool, a story mechanism that is used for the main focus: the fight for survival of the characters. The focus is the precarious situation of the characters while they are confronted with never-ending danger. That is also the most interesting part of the movie and that makes me forgive the lack of realism in wolf behavior.
The second critique is the ending, which is somewhat inconclusive. Let’s just say that the movie was more about the journey and the simple theme of being willing to fight to stay alive and not giving up, no matter how hard and bleak things get. That is all we need to know.
Verdict: this is one of those movies that stays with you for days afterwards. You need to bring up the right mindset before seeing it, though. If you can see yourself enjoy wallowing in bleak takes of survival, you will love this. But you might want to call over some friends for a party to cheer you up afterwards.