Synopsis: In THE GREY, Liam Neeson’s character leads an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks when their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness. Battling mortal injuries and merciless weather, the survivors have only a few days to escape the icy elements – and a vicious pack of rogue wolves on the hunt – before their time runs out.Â
Based on the short story “Ghost Walker” by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
Release Date: January 27, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Action, Drama
The Grey begins with a melancholy Liam Neeson, playing the lead role of Ottway, tormenting himself about a lost love, and commenting on the group of men he works alongside at the end of the world. The end in this case is Alaska, and the men are oil-riggers who all come from less than desirable backgrounds. Without a woman in sight it is clear this is a movie about men; fear not, it is not Deliverance for a new generation although it does have that same broodiness and of course the male bonding in the wilderness. Ottway’s group of men are en route to their work station when their plane crashes in literally the middle of nowhere. The small group that survive all have issues, they all are afraid, and their fears are magnified upon the viewer in varying displays. Some get angry, others pensive, one a jittery fool, and some eerily quiet. The initial panic at being lost in the Alaskan wilderness soon becomes the least of the men’s worries. The ultimate threat they have to deal with is the pack of wolves’ territory they have crash landed in, and the wolves have every intention of protecting their home.
Built up as a thriller The Grey is a distressing film. Not because of the wolves hunting the men down one-by-one, but more for the idea of the events occurring. Wolves are not in their nature animals who attack humans, but these are not typical wolves and anyone with a healthy imagination will find plenty to fear in The Grey. There are the wolves, but there is also nature itself. The natural elements the men face to survive is frightening in and of itself. Adding a pack of wolves who are far too intelligent, far too determined, and seemingly impossible to thwart adds to the misery of life for the men of The Grey.
That said, The Grey does not just want to be a wilderness based thriller of man vs. nature and man vs. animal. It tries to be introspective by adding scenes of Ottway’s character imagining life with his lost love, speaking to her, asking her advice, and her responding in kind. These moments break the tension of the film and alienate the viewer in the process. The scenes are insignificant and downright kitschy as they seem to cue something bad happening shortly after to either Ottway or one of the other men. The Grey‘s core plot is strong; it is interesting and full of great scenes between the men as they reflect on their lives and the situation they find themselves. The wolves are frightening in a subdued manner, and Director Carnahan does not paint them as rabid beasts hunting men for sport. They are animals protecting their home, just as the men are pitted as animals trying to survive in a place unsuited towards them. The film even has bouts of humor thanks to some unforgettable one-liners–whether the humor was intended by the screenwriters cannot be known but it does not hurt. If only The Grey stuck to the core animalistic themes it possesses it would have made for a more than mediocre time at the movies that does not test your patience.
It is all about the wolves in The Grey in terms of the special effects, one might argue. They would nearly be correct, save for a great plane crash. The wolves are the main enemy in The Grey; almost mythologic beasts for their keen senses, and size. These wolves are intelligent, they have a leader who controls them, and they are capable of finding the weakness in man; or in this case, of a group of men. Director Joe Carnahan could have added the wolves in post, via CGI, but he took a different approach and his decision paid off. Carnahan used real trained wolves, giant puppet animatronics, and CGI, to create the ominously threatening wolves The Grey provides. Greg Nicotero served as Creatures Supervisor; Mike Fields, Alex Diaz, David Wogh, and Bethamber Hathaway were in charge of the wolf puppets, and James Paradis was in charge of the special effects, with Gerry Thierien of Action Animals handling the real-life wolves. As you can see, a great deal of people were put in place to create the wolves and guarantee the realness of the animals, and even when just their eyes are glowing in the pitch black night they are a presence that is felt by an audience member. The tension may not build to great heights to make the wolves frightful for a viewer but the looming presence of them, the way they look straight at the men, almost through them at times, awakens your sense of dread. To come face to face with one of these beasts would be terrifying, it is the careful crafting of realism combined with nearly unreal imaginings that makes the wolves in The Grey something not soon forgotten.
The Grey was shot on location in Smithers, a small-town in British Columbia, which stands-in for the Alaskan wilderness. Covered in snow, the landscape is beautifully shot in wide expanses, showcasing the wilderness and desolation of the area. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi takes the very realistic approach to the camera work, utilizing both a soft focus technique with additional grain on the lens and crisp focus to highlight the depth of the area. He captures nature’s elements on screen, the ice blowing in the treacherous winds, the snow crusted to the men’s beards in close-up. The extreme elements the men face are a focal point of each shot, even when it is merely a close-up of their feet trudging through the snow, and the slow movement of each step as their exhaustion takes hold. As the landscape plays a character in the film through the cinematography the most unforgettable shots occur with the wolves. When the wolves attack the men individually it is a flurry of extreme close-ups; their teeth biting into flesh, the blood soaked fangs completely in focus if only for a fleeting second between cuts. The horror of the attack is caught precisely as it should be, showing enough to the viewer to be horrified but also leaving a great deal to the imagination. The Grey‘s cinematography highlights the immense beauty of a place that contains a horrific nightmare for this group of men, and it does it extremely well.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Joe CarnahanMickey LiddellRidley Scott
- Producer(s): Tony ScottJoe CarnahanIan MacKenzie Jeffers
- Screenwriter(s): Liam Neeson (Ottway)Dermot Mulroney (Talget)Frank Grillo (Diaz)
- Story: Dallas Roberts (Henrick)
- Cast: Joe Anderson (Flannery)Nonso Anozie (Burke)James Badge Dale (Hernandez) Roger BartonJason HellmanMasanobu TakayanagiJohn Willett
- Cinematographer: Marc Streitenfeld
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA