The Grey tells the story of Ottway (Liam Neeson), a professional hunter whose job it is to protect the oil workers based at a very remote oilfield (“a job at the end of the world”) from the wild animals of the area. Very early on the film tells us that we’re not in for another Taken or Unknown as Neeson’s character begins the film in a self-destructive and suicidal mode believing he has nothing left to live for.
As is so often the case with suicidal characters played by big-name stars, his life is almost immediately put into peril and any thoughts of suicide leave his mind. In this case the peril comes in the shape an air crash that strands the surviving workers deep in the Alaskan wilderness and right in the middle of a pack of grey wolves’ territory.
Ottway takes charge of the desperate group of survivors and organises them to find fire and food while he comforts a man, fatally wounded in the crash. This is the film in a nutshell, as it’s half man versus nature survival-porn and half emotional spiritual navel-gazing against a bleak Godless wilderness backdrop.
The morning after the crash it becomes apparent that the grey wolves have not taken kindly to men invading their territory and Otway decides that to survive they need to leave the crash site and head for civilisation. En route to safety the group is picked off one by one, some by forces of nature and some by the wolves themselves. In between the characters being attacked and eaten, freezing to death, or falling down canyons there is much stilted dialogue fireside conversations and shorn nerves leading to confrontations and power struggles within the group.
The film is at its best when it’s dealing with the former and at its weakest dealing with the latter. However almost every exciting scene has been done better in a different film; Alive had a more thrilling air crash, The Edge had a more foreboding animal threat and Cliffhanger had a more exciting wire crossing death, but what none of those films had was Liam Neeson punching a wolf in the face.
Neeson, who turns 60 this year holds the film together better than most actors would, not only is he an accomplished thespian he has proven in recent years to be bona fides action hero which pretty much makes him the perfect fit for the Grey. The film itself is average at best with the sluggish spiritualism and the heavy-handed flashbacks a constant distraction from the meat of the piece which should be man’s battle against the elements.