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The Grey

The Grey

Joe Carnahan exploded onto the scene in 2002 with the dark cop thriller, Narc, and then went radio silent for about four years.  His follow up was the noisy and senseless Smokin’ Aces and followed up with the unnecessary and garish A-Team.  At this point, it was easy to write him off but Carnahan arrives back on the scene with the daring man vs. wilderness movie, The Grey.  Starring Liam Neeson as a roughneck at an oil drilling site, the film follows Neeson as he leads a small band of survivors after a plane crash to safety once it becomes clear that they are being hunted by a vicious pack of wolves.

If there’s one characterization of Carnahan’s work so far, it is the thematic relationship between masculinity and the self, and The Grey is the purest representation of that in his work so far.  Sold as Taken except this time Neeson fights wolves, the film has higher goals than that and provides a depth of emotionalism and nihilism missing from Neeson’s other action work of recent years.  Rather the film is about Neeson’s inner conflicts with himself and the film strikes out to be a wholly different thing from the outset.  Carnahan sets the tone of the film right from the start, with our protagonist, who we must root for to survive throughout the film, putting a gun to his head contemplating suicide.

Though there is a group of men Neeson goads into following him in his trek for survival, they are not as nearly intricately drawn as Neeson’s character, though they do have their moments.  But it becomes difficult to differentiate between the men with the combination of dirt, grime, snow, and ragged facial hair obscuring their features.  Each has their moments and relative character traits but, in essence, they are all just waiting for their eventual demise in some fashion.  Carnahan skillfully builds to these scenes and rather than dwell in the horror and graphic violence of their deaths, gives each man a sensitive and heartfelt death that doesn’t exploit but rather gets at the thematic heart of the film.

The scenes of man vs. wolf are ultimately scary and Neeson gives an incredibly intense performance that would be Oscar-worthy had it been released just a month earlier but is destined to be a forgotten, yet underrated, master class in machismo and despair.  The film never feels exploiting or manipulative of the emotions but rather earns them beat for beat throughout the film.  Carnahan could have easily made just another schlocky action movie of man’s triumph over nature but he rather holds the film steady, providing deep, measured moments of contemplation about man’s role within nature and our ultimate relationship with God once our very natures are stripped away from us, as well as the deep camaraderie between men hell-bent on survival.  The Grey is a special film that is completely unexpected that sneaks up on you and stays with you long after the final fade to black.

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