First off, forget about the marketing campaign. They did a job good of selling it, but the movie they sold is absolutely not this one. The trailer made it look like an action-pack thriller where Liam Neeson spends the movie kicking furry butts, when the truth is this is NOT an action movie, and Neeson only kick metaphorical ass. And that he does en sacramament (pardon my french). I guess it was the right move to defraud the audience, because after all winter movies are usually not worth wasting your time with; the studio HAD to capitalize on the recent similar Neeson thrillers like Taken and its weaker little brother Unknown. This isn't a fun or uplifting or thrilling film; it's a thriller for sure though.
The film follows Neeson as the appointed hunter in a remote Alaskan oil outpost; his job is to the wildlife that could potentially threaten the workers, but as he points out himself the biggest danger in these parts are the men, brawlers and lowlifes who wouldn't fit anywhere else in society. He and a group of workers board a plane back to the mainland, but as fate would like it the plane crashes, leaving a small group of them to fend for themselves in the middle of the frozen tundra. Things get even more hopeless when a pack of vicious wolves take an unhealthy interest in them.
Yes, the synopsis does keep in line with the trailer, but this isn't a story about men versus nature, but instead of man vis-a-vis his own nature and especially his own mortality. The storyline and events are sometimes far fetched and perhaps even unrealistic, but never does director Joe Carnahan aim at depicting real-life survival in the cold. The elements and hazards encountered are meant to reflect on just how far our spirits will take us when faced with the inevitable: we ARE all going to die, it's nothing but a matter of how and when.
This is thankfully not the Joe Carnahan of Smoking Aces trying too hard to be the hottest thing in town since Tarantino; this is very much the Carnahan of Narc, who uses the visual medium to tell a story that definitely feels personal to him. The hopelessness of the situation and characters is sharply contrasted by an amazing scenery that never reeks of CG trickery, and is carried along by an absolutely haunting score. It all combines to such a palpable sense of dread that the whole thing sometimes feels like a horror movie, where the cheap scares are replaced by the actual horror of watching what we already know will happen, what we known can not be avoided or changed.
Recent chatter claims that the director knows the film was mis-marketed AND released at an odd time, and intends to put it back on the big screen in October to generate some Oscar buzz. I doubt the Academy will bite much to that bait, but I do feel there's acclaim to be awarded here, if only for Neeson's uncompromising performance as well as supporting player Dallas Roberts who keeps stealing scenes in every film or TV show lucky enough to have him. Actually, the whole cast contributes to my surprise toward the level of quality involved in this film.
As beautiful as it may be, The Grey is again not a film to be cheerful from. it is dark, bleak and provides an chilling look behind the curtain of our refusal to admit, most of our lives, that no one escapes this life without death at the end. The question that will remain is how will we decide to face that end.
Final Word: 8/10