Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Grey

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-


  1. Hmm ...

    I wouldn't call it an action film. Whether it's being labeled as one is irrelevant.

    The characters are a bit one note, but they become worth caring for by the end.

    It's long and sluggish at times (which was one of my major complains, too) - but taking us through the horrors of being stranded in the middle of nowhere, I wouldn't have it any other way.

    Neeson's character knows what he should know - considering that's his job.

    As for the ending, not sure how you could've possibly concocted that early on ... It's surprising and oddly rather evocative.

    James said it best when he talked about how this will be undervalued, due to how "quite and slow" it is - just like "The American" - another deeply intimate picture that was criminally overlooked.

    Good review, despite partially disagreeing.

  2. @Sam Fragoso I don’t think the film’s marketing is irrelevant at all – the people who go to this expecting the action that is promised in the press material could be let down. Just wanted to let action fans know that this is not that.

    Neeson’s character knows everything about wolves because THAT’S what he does. I have no problem with that. I take issue with the fact that the dude knew everything about everything. It made every other character look like a complete dumbass because, as is usually the case in these kinds of movies, if you have a character that knows everything, every other character must know nothing.

    Without giving too much away, I’ve just seen too many of these movies to know that once people start getting picked off one by one, it’s usually going one place. So, yeah, I found the ending predictable and a cop out.

    As for the horrors of being stranded in the middle of nowhere, I didn’t get the same sense of dread here as I did for, say, Gerry, or hell, even The Edge.

    Either way, this movie just didn’t do it for me at all. The American was, to me, incredibly intelligent, which is not something I’d say about The Grey. Although, based on the majority of reviews out there, many people would disagree with me.

  3. Liam Neeson for me has gone down hill in terms of script choices last few years, cashing in on his name ("The Other Man" 2008 was a low point).
    I do like survival in the wild stories quite a lot. Does worry me you say its so slow, for an action film.

  4. @Chris If you like lost in the wild films, then I think you'll dig this. But yeah, don't go in thinking it's an action flick.

  5. Low expectations = a pleasant surprise. I thought the pacing was fine for action fans... the talky bit were frequently puntuated by the vicious attacks but it was predictable as hell. I kept thinking 'he's next then'. The opening voiceover was super cliched and the characters took awhile to get differentiated (just in time for their deaths!). I reckon the ending will drive a lot of action fans nuts.

  6. @Pete Yeah I agree with most everything you said. Glad someone else found if cliched and predictable too haha.