The Grey | Film review
Liam Neeson battles wind chill, timber wolves and the sins of his past.
Action cinema has greatly benefited from the addition of Liam Neeson to its roster of tough guys. It’s not just that the star of Taken and Unknown is a better actor than, say, Jason Statham. It’s that even when busting heads and leaping across rooftops, he exudes a vulnerability—a human dimension—uncommon to the genre. In The Grey, Neeson digs even deeper into his wounded, middle-aged masculinity as a Big Oil contract hunter who finds himself stranded in the frigid Alaskan wilderness. A half-dozen helpless survivors look to him for protection. If the cold doesn’t kill them all, a pissed-off pack of ravenous timber wolves surely will.
Exercising a restraint absent from his work since 2002’s Narc, director Joe Carnahan keeps the canine menace largely offscreen, clueing us to its presence via puffs of beastly breath and yellow eyes that pierce the ghostly white of an endless snowstorm. There’s a rough-hewn elegance to the set pieces, which include a harrowing plane crash and a rope-abetted treetop crossing. The Grey, though, is less an action film than a strange, existential male-bonding picture. (Think Howard Hawks by way of Werner Herzog.) Haunted by memories of a woman he once loved—parallels to the actor’s private life are poignant and possibly intentional—Neeson’s suicidal badass curses a damningly silent God, eases a fallen comrade into death and leads fireside conversations about what it means to be a man. Adrenaline junkies may be bored—the movie stops short of the teased fistfight with a wolf—but this is about as poetic as January genre offerings come.