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Film review: Joe Carnahan's 'The Grey' has a bit of an overbite

January 27, 2012|By Andy Klein | By Andy Klein
  • Liam Neeson stars in the action thriller, 'The Grey,' opening Jan 27, 2012, nationwide. Left to right: Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Liam Neesen, Nonso Anozie. (Photo by Kimberley French)
Liam Neeson stars in the action thriller, 'The Grey,'…

"The Grey” was probably pitched as something like “’Alive’ Meets Jack London's 'To Start a Fire' Meets ‘Wolfen,’” or maybe “Jaws — But Wolf Jaws, Not Shark Jaws.” It combines aspects of all of these and a bunch more. Whether you'll warm to this frigid Arctic (or sub-Arctic?) adventure will depend largely on your feelings about the genre.

Director/co-writer Joe Carnahan (“Narc,” “The A Team”) doesn't waste much time setting things up. Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a sharpshooter at an isolated oil rig, charged with picking off any predatory animals who endanger the roughnecks. It's quickly established that Ottway is despondent, right on the edge of suicide, over a former love. So he has less to lose when — flying to civilization with a bunch of coworkers — their plane hits bad weather and crashes ... less than 15 minutes into the film.

Ottway and six or seven others survive. The most obvious move would be to build fires and huddle inside the wreckage, but then the wolves show up. Wolves may not spontaneously attack humans, but — as Ottway explains at one point — his party seems to have landed smack dab in the middle of the wolves' turf, which they will (understandably) kill to protect. After the first bloody encounter with the animals, Ottway convinces the others to march away, hoping he can lead them beyond the perimeters of the wolves' domain.

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Over the course of three or four days — an hour and a half in our terms — the trek is interrupted by their stalkers, who generally manage to fatally maul someone. Who will be killed next? How many will survive? Or who will be the last man standing?

I criticized the pacing of Carnahan's 2007 “Smokin' Aces” for being too frenetic, never giving us a chance to catch our breath. So I feel a bit sheepish making the opposite complaint this time around. These guys do a whole lot of sitting around the campfire, talking. Such scenes help develop the characters, but by the end only two of the men (beside Ottway) are really differentiated.

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