Nature is a bitch. As you’ll see in The Grey, a terrifically exciting, deeply unsettling survivalist epic about a dirty half-dozen or so whose plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, leaving them prey to biting cold and teeth-gnashing wolves. Liam Neeson, in top form, heads the cast as Ottway, a sharpshooter hired by an Alaska oil refinery to keep wolves, bears and other creatures away from the riggers. On a trip home after a grueling five-week shift, the men are victims of a storm that sends their plane crashing into the wilderness. Great scene.
Director Joe Carnahan, who co-wrote the script with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (based on the Jeffers story “Ghost Walker”), pushes the limits of dramatic tension in the style of his reputation-making 2002 film, Narc. Gone is the slick, escapist bounce of Carnahan’s A-Team. The Grey holds you in its grip by staying close to the heart of darkness inside each of its characters. Neeson is just tremendous, finding the fragility underlining Ottway’s bravado. Thoughts of suicide haunt Ottway since his split from his wife (Anne Openshaw, seen in flashbacks). But Ottway’s sense of command bonds the group, despite protest from ex-con Diaz (Frank Grillo). The men, including Dermot Mulroney, James Badge Dale, Dallas Roberts, Nonso Anozie and Joe Anderson, snipe at one another as the elements drain their humanity. Each actor creates a full portrait even when the script does not. What ultimately unites them is their fear of the marauding wolves.
Carnahan uses puppets, men in wolf suits, even trained animals to take these creatures out of digital fantasy and into a stark reality that will haunt your nightmares. Shot by the gifted cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi on location in British Columbia, the movie chills you to the bone. Carnahan goes a step further by adding the shiver that comes from plumbing the violence of the mind. The Grey, full of beauty and terror and a healing sense of grace, brings us face to face with our own worst fears. Hold on tight. It’s a true call of the wild.