Early in The Grey, a plane carrying a group of misfits, thugs and ex-cons that drill for oil in Alaska, crashes in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. The one-dimension characters that survive (there’s the annoying buffoon, the know-it-all asshole, the gentle giant, the reserved thinker and, of course, The Leader) are soon battling hunger, the cold, and plenty of pissed of wolves.
At some point, the group, as instructed by Ottway (Liam Neeson), head in one direction or another to escape what’s coming to them. So for two hours, we’re privy to a group of tired, bitchy men, getting knocked off one by one as they slug around the cold, desolate wilderness in search of anything.
I mention the film’s running time (actually 117 minutes) because I was stunned to discover it only took up that much of my time. The Grey, as you’ll discover moments into the first act, is paced beyond exhaustion. It’s one of the slowest “action” films I’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of popcorn flick in which some characters take more than five minutes to die. Another extended scene of dialogue between three characters plays out almost entirely in one shot, and by the end of the conversation, the camera just stays put with one character. And stays. And stays.
Look, I get it. You don’t call Ingmar Bergman you’re favorite filmmaker if you’re not a huge fan of extended scenes and unbroken shots. That’s not the issue here. The problem is that The Grey, as directed by Joe Carnahan (who made the very brilliant Narc a decade ago), seems to be pacing his movie as a way of showing off, as if he’s saying to the audience, “Yeah, I made Smokin’ Aces, but I can exercise restraint too, so… Ha-Ha.” Every single scene in The Grey lasts longer than it should; if the movie were 30 minutes shorter, it would’ve been much better, maybe even great. But here’s what we’re stuck with. And the good news (yes, there is some) is that aside from its tendency to be incredibly boring, there’s nothing really wrong with it.
Since reviving his career as a badass in Taken, Liam Neeson has delivered some seriously entertaining performances. Yes, it is rather annoying (and very convenient) that his Ottway knows everything there is to know about wolves, the wilderness, the cold, death – you name it. But, I suppose, it’s Carnahan’s intention to make him into a modern day MacGyver (this is actually referenced directly by a character in the film), so, fair enough.
The rest of the cast is comprised of a handful of talented actors (Frank Grillo, the “Beethoven Trainer” from Warrior, is a highlight) who flesh out their respective characters, despite how underwritten they all are. And although the film arrives exactly how you envision it to arrive, you’re most likely to enjoy it, provided you know what you’re getting yourself in to. Time well spent? Possibly. If the film occupied less time… definitely. C-