Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Movie Review: The Grey (2012)

Liam Neeson is a sniper hired by an oil-drilling company in the Arctic wilderness to literally keep the wolves at bay.  On a flight back to civilization, the plane carrying a load of hardened rig-workers crashes into the frozen tundra.  Neeson, along with the survivors, find themselves being hunted by a vicious pack of wolves, wanting to turn them into meatball sandwiches at the earliest opportunity.

And that's the story in a nutshell.  Of course, it's more than that as over time the characters are fleshed out (figuratively and literally) and the story progresses into a survivalist trek through stunning, Arctic scenery beset by breathtaking Winter storms.  Neeson, as ever, is good value and he's to be credited for attempting what looked like an arduous shoot at nearly 60 years of age.  Then again, his CV, particularly after his Oscar-nodded turn in Schindler's List, has been a melange of action-adventurers including the highly successful and hugely entertaining 'Taken' (2008).  He's certainly defined himself as an action star despite his advancing years.

The Grey promises much and mainly delivers.  Thrills and shocks are provided by the wolves as their pack-hunting instincts and innate intelligence allow them to pick off the luckless survivors one by one.  One memorable scene finds the protagonists shining their flame torches out into the darkness and seeing reflected back numerous malevolently hungry eyes.  Gulp.  The supporting characters are given enough time to grow and while they tend to fall into stereotypical cliches, there's enough back story to each so we care when they're inevitably bumped off.

It comes across as the bastard child of a sub-zeroed Jaws (1975) 'twixt Southern Comfort (1980), which is no bad comparison as both of those films are superlative in the genre.  I could name any number of other films where the boundaries cross but that's doing The Grey an injustice.  It's genuinely tense, has action in spades and leaves a lasting impression.  The cast do well but it's Neesons film and he's quite superb.  Saying that, even he plays second fiddle to some incredible cinematography.  The Arctic wilderness has never looked so harsh, foreboding or beautiful.

On a side note, the CGI for the wolves is quite atrocious in places.  Being shot in genuine minus-40 weather, they didn't scrimp on the location so why on the animal training?  Doesn't make sense.  It's not enough to detract a whole point from my final score.  Perhaps they blew the CGI budget on the frightfully realistic plane crash?  That was well scary.

Overall, it's a decent enough film with realistic characters, well-placed story beats and plenty of blood-covered snow to keep the gorists happy.  It's a shame the wolf effects were so naff and I sincerely hope it doesn't do for these wonderful, majestic animals what Jaws did for sharks.  Oh, and wait until ALL the credits have rolled or you'll miss a bit (like we did).

Rated 15.  Running time 117 minutes.

My rating: 7/10

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