Saturday, January 25, 2014

Instant Action: The Grey (2011)

Wolves are pretty awesome, even in this movie, they're still pretty awesome!

Screenplay By: Joe Carnahan & Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
Directed By: Joe Carnahan

Is The Grey an action film? That's the question I found myself asking, until I realized I shouldn't be asking that question. Of course The Grey is an action film, action is peppered throughout the film. The reason I initially felt like disallowing The Grey as an action film solely resides in the dramatic content of the film. The Grey isn't an action film first, it's a drama first. The action in The Grey exists to support the soul searching of Ottway, and his intrepid companions. The wolves are a source of internal horror made external, and while they do provide the action that's the not their true purpose. Yes, The Grey is an action film, but it has other aims and it doesn't shy away from putting the focus on its non-action aspects.

There isn't a plot comes to a conclusion sort of ending to The Grey. For some this will be disconcerting, a point of consternation even. For me, such an ending is refreshing and the ambiguity of the film left a delightfully tingly feeling in my brain. I like when movies challenge, when they ask me to look beyond the obvious and peer underneath the surface. Near the middle of The Grey I began to form theories about what the actual film was saying and why it was saying it. In the end a theory put forth by my wife is what swayed me the most. I followed this theory to its natural conclusion and that's when the film, and its ending really came alive in my mind.

The action, or horror depending on how you look at it, gives life to the demons plaguing Ottway. The story isn't about a group of men trying to survive, rather it's about one man attempting to come to grips with his inner demons. The wolves are an external threat, but they are representative of his internal fears and regrets. The characters we spend time with represent the various ways that Ottway has dealt with adversity throughout the years. The Grey ends up being a film of stages, or rather a film about stages. Essentially we are following the various stages of Ottway's life and his dealings with grief. Of course, that's not to say that what we are seeing isn't happening, it's up to the viewer to decide what reality is, what a demon is, what is struggle, and what the point ultimately is in The Grey.

A key scene for me in the film comes early on, when one of the surviving characters is dying. Ottway, Liam Neeson, tells this man that he is going to die. Joe Carnahan avoids theatrics, and keeps things small and intimate. We see the shocked faces of the other characters, and we get a shot of Ottway gently placing his hand on the dying man. Ottway talks the man through his final moments, and what is left is the raw vulnerability of humanity. The rest of the film is fundamentally about dealing with this scene. The ramifications of facing your own mortality up close and trying to overcome the domestic and foreign ills that haunt us.

I'm not super familiar with the work of Mr. Carnahan. In fact, The Grey is the first and only film I've seen from Mr. Carnahan. I'm not sure if the rest of his work is as deeply poetic and tender as The Grey. It doesn't really need to be though, because The Grey exists and is fully comfortable in the tender clothes Mr. Carnahan shrouds it in. The Grey is an action film, with sequences that are thrilling, suspenseful, violent, and well-choreographed. It's also a drama, a tender tale of the fragility of life and the efforts humanity will go to in avoiding owning up to their own fragile mortality. The Grey is a well-made film, an action movie with a soul, and a deep rumination on the nature of the human spirit.



Bill Thompson

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