A man versus wolf saga playing out in Alaska – and no, not anything to do with Sarah Palin – The Grey is yet another grueling addition to that unofficial genre of luckless human survival and misadventure in the wilderness. And about as far off from any notion of ‘entertainment’ as you can get. Unless marooned unfortunates taking turns ending up as wolf dinner – or the other way around – whets your moviegoer appetite.
Liam Neeson heads the progressively diminishing cast of characters in The Grey as Ottway, a despondent Irish immigrant loner among a transient crew of oil workers, flown off to a prospective drilling site in remote Alaska. Described before takeoff in gritty, somber narrative voiceover as ‘fugitives, drifters and assholes – men not fit for mankind,’ the rowdy bunch is first glimpsed in a mass drunken brawl at a seedy bar, while the enigmatic Ottway strolls off into the snow and momentarily sticks a loaded rifle between his gaping jaws.
After boarding the charter flight for the desolate wilds – a kind of airborne Noah’s Ark housing typical extreme ethnic stereotypes from each group – the plane hits bad weather and crashes in deep snow. Assuming the leadership role among the few survivors, Ottway divides his time between calculated, mostly unsuccessful strategies to ward off the predatory wolves, reliving far too repetitive romantic moments with his wife off in some far flung corner of the world, and collecting the wallets of the abruptly devoured.
At the same time, scenes of violent deaths among the men similarly alternate with nostalgic memories back home. A filmmaking strategy seemingly designed to alternate as well, appeals to guy movie and chick flick prone audiences respectively.
Directed by crime thriller maven Joe Carnahan (Blood, Guts, Bullets & Octane, Narc, and Smokin’ Aces), The Grey presents but never actually follows through on more original ideas. That is, compounding the internally warring group’s chronic sense of imminent terror, is a shared hopelessness that as low rung workers, who would bother to send in a search party looking for them anyway. A far from irrelevant collective sentiment historically at the moment, as a substantial emerging segment of the population is currently feeling abandoned economically and politically.
Likewise food for thought – side by side with a kind of wild dog eat dog buffet for real in the wilds – is perhaps the differently expressed survival instincts that might be exhibited by working stiffs as opposed to, for instance, a stranded plane full of tourists or businessmen. But with the usual affluent cast, not to mention monied filmmakers, on board The Grey impersonating working stiffs, who can really say.
Open Road Films
2 1/2 stars