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Screens & Tech

Critic's Pick: 'The Grey'

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo


What is man's most primal fear? Losing everything he loves? Dying alone? The unknown? These are only a few of the themes explored in The Grey, a surprisingly thoughtful character-driven thriller that has a lot more to say than most man vs. Mother Nature survival stories. Imagine if all films that fell under this category were as emotionally rich as, say, Cast Away, 127 Hours, Into the Wild, or Jeremiah Johnson. It might be easier to examine a lone man fighting for life than to tackle the complexities of a group under siege, but The Grey's study of a team of oil drillers gets about as close as any mainstream movie has in recent years.

Director/writer Joe Carnahan, who broke into the scene in 2002 with the gritty, well-executed cop drama Narc before dropping two cinematic bombs (Smokin' Aces, The A-Team), was motivated by the fear of being known for those last two mind-numbing contributions. "I started getting concerned that I was being viewed … as this schmucky action director that doesn't really have anything meaningful to say," Carnahan admitted during an interview with NPR last week. With The Grey, Carnahan, who is currently linked to a Death Wish remake and a crime drama centered on Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, doesn't have to worry anymore. The Grey has substance without getting too preachy or philosophical.

Led by John Ottway (Liam Neeson in another alpha-male role), a team of suddenly planeless oil drillers must fend off a vicious pack of grey wolves stalking them from the darkness of the snow-covered wilderness. Walk into The Grey hoping to see a wolf get dropkicked in the snout or a stockpile of wolf-eaten bodies and be prepared for disappointment. This isn't about man-on-wolf combat as much as it is about confronting one's own mortality. It may have felt insincere had it been anyone else screaming to God to show him a sign He exists, but with Neeson digging as deep as he does it all rings unexpectedly true.

★★★ (out of 5 stars)
The Grey
Dir. Joe Carnahan; writ. Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers; fest. Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Nonso Anozie, Joe Anderson (R)

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