‘The Grey’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 27th, 2014 at 3:53 pm,

Liam Neeson The Grey Movie The Grey Review

The Grey might not be the next Alive – but there’s no doubt it raises the bar for future character-driven survival thrillers.

When stylized action director Joe Carnahan (The A-Team and Smokin’ Aces) began preparing a no-holds-barred, man-versus-nature film in the wilds of Alaska, more than a few cinephiles scratched their heads.

Then, when word began to spread that Carnahan’s dramatic thriller The Grey was being positioned as Oscar-bait for star Liam Neeson, while at the same time promising an intense and “horrific” survival story, potential moviegoers began to take serious note.

It’s easy to see how The Grey collaborators ultimately affected the final onscreen result – as the film excels in a number of ways (tense and gripping life or death scenes as well as a noteworthy performance from Neeson) but also falls short in several others (such as character development). While plenty of filmgoers enjoyed Carnahan’s A-Team and Smokin’ Aces, there’s no doubt that the over-the-top tone of those films would have been out of place in The Grey. As a result, it’s encouraging to see the director stretch his comfort zone a bit – even if the final result isn’t flawless.

The Grey follows the story of John Ottway (Liam Neeson), a deeply depressed hunter-guard at an isolated oil refinery in Alaska. Ottway is a ‘rough around the edges’ type who spends his days traversing the perimeter of the refinery killing wild animals that, if unchecked, could threaten the plant’s various workers. The twist comes when Ottway and an entire plane full of refinery employees (en route to Anchorage for leave) crash in the middle of the Alaskan wilds. While most of the passengers die instantly, a few survivors emerge from the wreckage – only to discover that not only are they going to have to fight the elements to reach safety, they’re also being hunted by a pack of ruthless and unrelenting wolves. While a few of the men are initially skeptical of Ottway, the group ultimately agrees to follow him away from the plane wreckage and into the elements – in the hopes of survival.

Liam Neeson Grey Movie The Grey Review

Liam Neeson as ‘Ottway’ in ‘The Grey’

As a result of the isolated locale, The Grey is a combination of character-focused exchanges as well as chilling and intense nature and/or wolf action encounters. Unfortunately, as with other Carnahan projects, the character moments are somewhat of a mishmash. There are numerous standout opportunities for Neeson and other actors, such as Frank Grillo (Diaz) to shine, but aside from a few primary characters, most of the other survivors are presented with thin (and even manipulative) emotional padding. While there’s no doubt that audiences can “explain away” some of the filmmaker’s attempt to humanize other survivors, it’s obvious that Carnahan had quick and dirty go-to solutions for investing viewers in each person – i.e. this one will have a kid, etc. Even though there’s a lot of time spent on character backgrounds, with the exception of Ottway and Diaz, very few of the survivors are anything more than The Grey‘s version of potential (no spoilers) “Red Shirts.”

That said, a lot of moviegoers will likely find that certain characters and their various interactions are ultimately enough to carry the film – at least from action set piece to action set piece. Neeson offers his usual subtle but likable intensity – whether attempting to rally his fellow survivors into conquering the elements or stamping out insurrections. While Ottway is still a pretty straightforward character, Neeson’s portrayal – coupled with some compelling (but not overdone) flashback material - makes him a worthwhile focal point for the unfolding events.

However, it’s those unfolding events that truly make The Grey a riveting moviegoing experience. While survival experts (and especially outdoorsy types) will likely be able to poke holes in a number of the man vs. nature scenarios depicted in the film, any potential inaccuracies aren’t likely to affect regular viewers. Maybe ignorance is bliss?

Liam Neeson Frank Grillo Dallas Roberts The Grey Movie The Grey Review

Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, and Dallas Roberts lead ‘The Grey’ survivors.

For the rest of us, The Grey presents a number of unique and equally tense situations for the survivors to encounter – keeping the tension up without simply watching the wolves take down one survivor after another. The wolves are definitely responsible for a lot of carnage in the film (a controversial depiction itself); however, their overarching function in the story is to keep the survivors moving – forcing less-capable characters into dangerous life or death scenarios. Without listing (and spoiling) things, it’s fair to say that Carnahan definitely utilizes a variety of potential challenges the survivors would face in the Alaskan wild – leading to a couple of truly intense moments.

Between the (sometimes thin) character interactions and the riveting action beats, Carnahan also injects a number of philosophical ideas (about death, love, and nature) that may entice some moviegoers, but most of which are never entirely wrapped up in a way that makes the added effort really sing. As a result, the end of the film could be somewhat of a sore spot for audiences – as certain elements of the finale are earned, while other aspects are jumbled together without any real payoff.

The Grey is ultimately at odds with itself – and at times, over-extends its reach. Fortunately, even if there are problems, Carnahan’s ambitions help The Grey be a better film than his earlier efforts. Another noteworthy performance from Liam Neeson keeps most of the character moments engaging (in spite of thinly-formed supporting roles) and the man vs. nature scenarios offer a number of memorable sequences (even if the director chose compelling action over uncompromising believability from time to time). The Grey might not be the next Alive – but there’s no doubt it raises the bar for future character-driven survival thrillers.

If you’re still on the fence about The Grey, check out the trailer below:


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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below:

The Grey is now in theaters.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

TAGS: The grey
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  1. The Grey sucks.

    Whatever they are doing to survive in this movie you should probably be doing the opposite.

    1) Wolves are NEVER that large NOR that aggressive. Wolves are afraid of people and fire even in large packs. BEARS on the other hand you should be worried about.

    2) Never EVER leave the crash site unless your plane ditches in the ocean and sinks. The aircraft has an EPIRB transmitter that will begin transmitting your location the moment it detects a 6G or worse crash. It will survive much higher G impacts than you will so unless it sinks to the bottom of the ocean it WILL be relaying your location to SAR (Search and Rescue). These days there does not need to be a plane overhead – satellites will pick up your crashed EPIRB signal and alert the authorities.

    3) You should also never leave the crash site because it is visible from the air and easy for SAR to spot in most cases. You on foot however are much harder to find.

    4) You should also never leave the crash site because it provides you with ready made shelter which you are going to need in an arctic winter.

    5) The aircraft contains radio transmitters, maps and location equipment which could be useful in figuring out where you are and calling for help.
    6) The aircraft contains supplies for survival. DON’T leave the aircraft!

    7) Guns will not break that easily in a plane crash. Sorry but that is just ridiculous. Even if they did a broken or empty gun still makes an excellent club.

    6) Learn what pressure points are and how to stop arterial bleeding Liam! Don’t let people bleed out like that.

    7) The things you need in arctic survival are: deal with medical emergency first, shelter/heat/fire second, water third, and food fourth.
    8) You can build shelter from snow – ever hear of an igloo Liam?

    9) Trees actually help camouflage the wolves by breaking up their silhouettes. You are better off in a wide open space where they cannot sneak up on you.

    10) Never ever try to cross a 1,000 ft deep gorge on a rope made from sweaters in someone’s luggage. You are going to die.

    11) Don’t clod through 2 foot deep snow if you have a knife – make yourself some SNOW SHOES from tree branches.

    12) If you are going to be in an airplane crash movie (Flight of the Phoenix, Castaway, the Grey) please be sure to pack a fully charged GPS, Iridium satellite cell phone, a zippo lighter, a K-BAR knife, appropriate clothing, some water, a Colt 1911 0.45 ACP, a high powered rifle with a scope and some ammo.

    • I agree with Doug, this movie was pretty bad. The alpha and omega of a bad movie – too unrealistic. Lots of holes to poke in the reality. Obviously not one survival consultant on set. Stay with plane,plenty of materials for shelter, fire, etc. Wolves had plenty of dead people to feed on(for weeks). All of a sudden everyone had knives to make the bang sticks. Wolves seem to disappear for no reason, or were slow (i.e. at end outrunning wolves or when guy fell in river – neeson running beside river – all of a sudden no wolves). What about hypothermia? – soaking wet clothes in middle of Alaska, I guess no problem. Way too many cuts to his wife/girlfriend – not nearly enough character development to care/feel his pain – or any of the others (i.e daughter with long hair – whatever) – crash, fire, walk, attack,die, walk, fire, attack,die, walk, fire, attack, die – that’s the whole movie. And the ending WTF.

      I get the msg. but isn’t that inherent in any survival movie – Liam Neeson is great actor and good in the movie but that’s it. This movie reel should have been thrown “into the fray” or fed to the wolves.

  2. Obsivouly people don’t really care about how “realistic” the film is cause the grey got an 82% on rotten tomatoes, 6.7 on IMBD, and is now rumored for winning oscars. I went to go see the midnight premire and it defiantly desevers an oscar or two and is by far my favorite movie of the year.

  3. One of the WORST movies ever- wolves like the ones in American Werewoldfin London – men who die for pointless reasons while in classic horror movie idiot situations. – one guy gives up because of a sprained ankle even though he’s barely limping – simply the worst movie I’ve ever seen short of Manos Hands of Fate – how could Ebert give it 3.5? Don’t waste your time.

    • I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. That being said, I am partial to Neeson and love anything involving wolves. However, the questions on it’s “reality” are somewhat true. Wolves would not behave in a way like that, and like previous commenters said, they are afraid of humans. That being said, since when do films not pinch and pull at reality for cinematic drama?
      I personally think that the reality of the situation was quite alright. Not everyone that gets into a plane crash is going to know the proper steps for survival, and the choices the characters made were valid. What I’m trying to say is that this movie is great, and I do recommend it to all.

  4. One of the worst sins that this movie committed was the horrid non-ending. I know, action movies always have a big climactic overdone fight at the end between the hero and villain. It’s always too long. It’s always full of unrealistic stunts. The villain always pops up after he dies, gets his fingers around the hero’s neck, and has to be “killed” again. I get all that.

    It’s good that the filmmaker decided to do something different. Unfortunately, that “something different” is to just fade to black and end. What kind of crap cop-out is that? I thought the video stream from my Roku player was interrupted until credits started rolling. It’s like the movie forgot to pay its electric bill and that’s where the movie had the power turned off.

    The movie made a big frickin’ deal of collecting guys’ wallets to hopefully return them to family. Then, at the end, we never find out. Why the big buildup? All references to the wallets should’ve hit the cutting room floor. We never find out if the last guy made it out or not (although we all agree that he deserves not to after seeing his myriad of ridiculous mistakes that lead to the death of everybody else).

    If I had known that the ending was just a fade-to-black before the films climax even occurred, I never would’ve watched it. What an unbelievable let-down after such a buildup.

    This movie had some good qualities and provoked some real thought about the philosophical side of life and death, but the film’s cardinal sins (and there are MANY) are an unbelievable let-down. It’s a film that gets you interested, gets you thinking, and then it just can’t finish. Now I know what it’s like to be a fan of the Buffalo Bills in the early 1990s.

  5. Only in movies they say:
    I have found this movie to be quite excellent viewing and also interesting in context.
    The only “glitch” I found was with the ammunition shown. Liam Neeson uses a rifle to hunt the wolves. After his plane crash, he finds his rifle stock broken…but picks up shotgun shells from his case when indeed it should have been rifle bullets!
    This fact reminds me a bit of the movie Rambo when he is shooting a right hand bow (arrow rest to the left inside window of the riser) instead of the opposite. Oh yes, and those explosive arrow tips…simply painted the plastic protective cover of the Razorback hunting tips (who come in the same box shown but of orange color) with camouflage pain! Experienced archers will confirm these explosive tips would never fly in real life…and as I said…only in the movies!!!!