The Grey (Joe Carnahan) 2012 Some spoilers

Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a security man for oil drilling team in Alaska.  On the way home, the plane carrying him and the rest of the crew crash.  Ottway and a few other survivors must try to make it to safety but they find themselves in the middle of the killing zone of a pack of fierce wolves.

I guess it is that rare time when I have to be contrarian to all the glowing reviews for this movie.  I can’t say I hated this movie but I certainly didn’t love it like most others seem to have.  And to counter something right off the bat it is not because I thought the movie would be more action packed (although the trailers do give you the extremely wrong impression about what it will be).

All during this movie I kept thinking of how this movie was failing where The Edge did things right.  You remember The Edge right?  Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin fight a giant bear in Alaska.  Am I one of the few that loved that movie?  Anyway, the Edge made better decisions about storytelling that didn’t work as well in the case of The Grey.  I suppose I’ll start off with my old man, most curmudgenly complaint in that I prefer a real life scary as hell looking bear as opposed to rather crappy looking CGI cartoon hell hounds.  I know this seems really petty but to me this was more a distraction than menacing.

A more substantive complaint is about the characters.  The Grey has none.  Well okay, that is a bit of an overstatement.  The Grey has a collection of completely forgettable, one dimensional characters.  Short of Liam Neeson, I could only identify people by the loosest of ways: that guy has glasses, that guy is a dick (for no real reason), that guy has long hair etc.  It’s really bad when we are about 10 minutes from the end and I seriously don’t know a thing about one of the few remaining survivors.  I’ve been with this guy for the course of the whole movie.  I should know SOMETHING about this man.  Liam Neeson’s character is the only one that is given anything to his character, but even that feels like table scraps compared to a full course meal.  Compare this to The Edge where we had three characters stuck in the forest.  Hopkins and Baldwin’s characters especially were fully mapped out characters.  I knew who they were, what brought them there, and what their motivations were.  I knew them so well there were no surprises in how they acted because I could see it coming from the way they were before.

This leads me to the dialog.  The Edge was written by David Mamet.  The dialog was cleverly written in that the characters had interesting things to say as well as revealing character traits.  The best part was none of it was very forced or unnatural.  My biggest complaint about The Grey is the dialog.  I really don’t mind that this movie has limited action or that most of it is about the characters huddled around fires talking.  I have a real problem when most of your movie is talking, and the characters have absolutely nothing interesting to say.  The banter between these people is so stock and unoriginal that it matches the characters.  It is all predictible blather about how one wants to see his kids or how another wants to get laid when he gets back to civilization or bitching from the dick character for no real reason given in the script other than the character is a dick.

The Edge had the characters dealing not just with the bear, but in surviving in the wilderness with no equipment.  The Grey eventually tries to get around to that, but that also fails in my opinion.  In the third act we get a scene where one of the characters jumps off a cliff to tie a rope between a tree and the cliff face, and the rest of the characters try to get across on this rope.  In a movie that is seemingly grounded in realism this scene seems way too unbelievable and Hollywood compared to the rest of this pic.  It’s also a bit of a plot hole in that the wolves somehow beat the characters down a cliff face despite the characters using a shortcut.

All of this stuff is making the movie a rather painful experience and then the last act of the movie comes up.  And all of a sudden its like they realize the mistakes they made and try to correct it.  The writers give Neeson’s character an actual, you know, character and not just a gruff voiced tuff guy persona.  The overall message of the movie becomes clear and the tone of the movie comes into sharp focus.  The characters are given some really powerful scenes and the tension is fully present.  It’s strange that a movie suddely being very good had me pissed off but seriously; what the hell!?  Why the hell did it take 90 minutes into this 120 minute movie for things to finally get going?  Sadly it wasn’t enough to fully turn my opinion around on this movie.

The Grey is a frustrating movie for me.  On the one hand, director Carnahan is really giving his best efforts here.  The atmosphere is bleak and depressing as all of nature seems to be conspiring to kill these men.  While I personally didn’t like the CGI, he films the wolves mostly in shadows to make them more of a silent but deadly threat which is always nearby.  Neeson gives a very good performance and the ending is very exciting.  That being said, 90 minutes of this movie was a painful slog.  Besides Neeson, everyone else is a faceless nobody with nothing to contribute to the movie.  The plotting is too slow for the limited material, and the dialog is absolutely horrible.  While the third act is very good, the rest of the journey is bad enough that it almost makes the ending not worth the trouble.  The Grey ends up being just barely good when it could have been much much better.

 

PS Watch The Edge

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