Review: The Gray (2012)

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The Gray (2012)

Directed by: Joe Carnahan | 117 minutes | action, drama | Actors: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, James Badge Dale, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, Dallas Roberts, Larissa Stadnichuk, Ben Bray, James Bitondi, Jonathan Bitondi

It is a mysterious seat; With its title ‘The Grey’ leaves the viewer in suspense about the content of the film. It gradually becomes clear that it is an adventure thriller and survival drama about the struggle between man and nature, which is embodied by the wolves and the icy cold of Alaska. ‘The Grey’ is an impressive film by Joe Carnahan (‘Smokin’ Aces’, ‘The A-Team’); the story is very personal and has a profound theme, but the formal aspects are also strong. Within both the narrative and the cinematography, clichés are also crossed, as a result of which the film scores high on originality.

The viewer is immediately introduced to main character John Ottway (Liam Neeson), a lived-in figure who hunts wolves for a living in faraway places. When he is on his way home from a mission, we see how he experiences a plane crash. Leader figure Ottway and six other occupants survive the crash, only to find themselves trapped in icy Alaska. The group tries to survive while being hunted by a pack of wolves.

From the beginning, the audience is stimulated to develop an intimate, personal connection with the characters, so the opening scenes immediately introduce one to Ottway’s innermost thoughts. This intimate atmosphere makes it easy to sympathize with the main character and immediately sparks interest. Where did Ottway’s life go wrong? What has he been through? The whole story contains a voice over by Ottway and we follow the perspective of the survivors throughout the film, so that the viewer merges with the characters, as it were. Even if they don’t all speak equally, we all get something personal when they talk about their lives around the campfire. Engagement with the characters is also contributed by the acting. From the outset, Neeson’s distressed and characteristically wrinkled face conveys an emotional atmosphere. Close-ups of his sad face almost seem to suck the viewer into his world.

In addition to this atmosphere, a profound theme gradually unfolds in the story. After a supplication to God does no miracles, it becomes clear that man is really on his own. The film is about the return to the human instinct. Ultimately, nature is about the right of the strongest, which is also apparent from a battle between two Alpha males. One has to stand up for oneself and in nature there is no room for fear, as evidenced for example by the phrase “don’t be afraid,” which Ottway’s ex-girlfriend says several times in his mind. So the film is about standing up for oneself, about fighting to the bitter end.

Furthermore, there are formal aspects that give ‘The Grey’ its strength. The emptiness and loneliness of Alaska are emphasized with shots in which we see nothing but endless snowscapes. This is enhanced by the calm, soft background music that seems to come from afar. This loneliness also reflects the main character’s state of mind, who is emotionally torn. The wolf howl in ‘The Grey’ seems overly dark, scary and loud, but this could be a conscious choice to reflect the experience of the characters. If you’re stranded in the middle of a wolf territory, every howl may seem like a terrifying harbinger of death. The chaotic shots of the wolf attacks also show the confusion of the characters.

Finally, the film plays with Hollywood clichés. In terms of form, for example, it is unconventional for the disaster genre to show the group’s perspective throughout the film. In many action movies, the main character is an all-powerful hero who will save everyone, but in ‘The Grey’ Ottway is also afraid of the wolves. Furthermore, the story ends during a climax, without showing the end of it. The open ending leaves the viewer with questions that can only be answered with imagination, which is unusual for action movies.

‘The Grey’ is therefore a film about man and nature, about survival and fighting. It is a personal story, because the viewer is closely involved with the psyche of the characters. It has a strong theme as well as form and transcends Hollywood standards by playing with the story and image. An impressive gem within the genre.

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