Tag Archives: Joe Carnahan

Joe Carnahan’s The Grey

When the marketing campaign came along for Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, they really tried their hardest to make it look like ‘that Liam Neeson movie about punching wolves.’ It’s understandable, because what we really got was a heartbreaking, human survival story rooted in character, streaked with sorrowful existentialism and so far from the rugged action film advertised. That kind of film is hard to sell in Big Hollywood, but it’s always better as filmgoers to receive something this thought out, carefully made, entertaining and deep when visiting the multiplex, and it’s gone on to become one of the best films of recent decades as well as a personal favourite.

Neeson is scary good as Ottway, hired gun for an oil company and resident badass at the remote Alaskan rig where hordes of rowdy labourers chase that paycheque they’re just gonna blow on booze the same night. On a routine transport back to Anchorage their plane crashes horrifically, scattering the tundra with bodies and leaving a handful of survivors to fight their way across the desolation. Led by Ottway, they soon realize their path has cut right trough the hunting ground stalked by a hungry pack of wolves, and they are now in the crosshairs as well as at odds with the cruel indifference of Mother Nature. The wolves here are never really seen clearly and don’t mimic what you might see on BBC’s Planet Earth, instead we get snarls, gristle, sinew and nasty unseen phantoms growling out there in the dark until one of them lunges for a kill. They serve not so much as literal wildlife but rather as harbinger of inevitability, a spectral reminder of one’s mortality in a situation like that, and the ever present fear of death.

Carnahan has a background in what you might call ‘manly movies,’ previously helming the excellently gritty Narc, the fabulous and underrated Smokin Aces and the silly reboot of The A Team, but The Grey is a brand new bag. Deadly serious, deeply thoughtful and surprisingly emotional, this is a film that loves its characters despite putting them through icy hell. Neeson is uncannily good, his character goes through sadness in ways that mirror real life tragedy the actor has been through, events we can see echo in his haunted, career best, primal howl of a performance. Dermot Mulroney makes brilliant work of Talget, a pensive man who just misses his daughter and holds onto that as will to live. Frank Grillo brings down the igloo as Diaz, a macho, hard bitten jerk-off who quickly discovers that such abhorrent behaviour is something both his fellow survivors and the wolves have no time for. Other fantastic work comes from James Badge Dale, Joe Anderson, Dallas Roberts, Nonzo Anozie, Ben Hernandez Bray, Anne Openshaw and more.

Roger Ebert said that the only time he ever walked out on a film was the next one in line after seeing this, and that sort of encapsulates the almost profound effect this one has. The first time I saw it was a bleary bootleg version on a laptop and I sat there stunned in silence after. There’s many aspects that went into attaining that quality, but what resonates and makes it work so well for me is how much it respects, loves, and treats its characters like actual human beings instead of cannon fodder victims for the wolves. They are all well developed, non-archetypal individuals, and it’s that that pulls you right into the story. There’s a scene where Neeson eases the passing of a fatally wounded man with comfort and grace, it’s easily the most devastating death scene I’ve ever seen filmed, made so by blunt realism and uncomfortable truth. My favourite scene has to be the remaining survivors sitting around a campfire, simply talking. They banter, Neeson shares a poem his father wrote, Mulroney tells a story about his daughter he misses so much and Grillo lightens their collective mood with a bit of humour. You feel like you’re sitting right there with them. A masterpiece on many levels.

-Nate Hill

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Joe Carnahan’s Stretch

It’s a crying shame that Joe Carnahan’s Stretch got buried with marketing and now no one knows about it, because it’s a pulpy treat that really deserved to be seen on the big screen and given a bit of hooplah pre-release. In the tradition of After Hours, consistently versatile Carnahan whips up a feverish nighttime screwball comedy of errors and bizarro shenanigans that doesn’t quit pummelling the viewer with rapid fire dialogue, hedonistic spectacle and a funhouse of LA weirdos getting up to no good, including a trio of the best celebrity cameos to come around in a long time. Patrick Wilson, who continues to impress, plays a sad sack limo driver who’s life has thrown him nothing but nasty curveballs, but he gets a chance to make bank and retribution in the form of Roger Karos, a deranged billionaire masochist who could unload a monster gratuity on him at the end of the night and clear the guy’s gambling debts. It’s a devil’s proposition and a fool’s errand, and as expected, pretty much everything than can go wrong does go wrong. Karos is played by an incognito and uncredited Chris Pine, and the guy should have gotten as many awards as they could throw at him. It’s a shame he’s in hiding here and no one knows about this performance because it’s a doozy. Pine plays him as a sadistic, scotch guzzling, cocaine hoovering monster who’s certifiably insane, like a smutty LA version of the Joker who’s as likely to shake your hand as set you on fire. Wilson’s Stretch is stuck with this demon, as well as his own, and it’s the night from hell, but nothing but mirth for the audience. Orbiting the two of them are wicked supporting turns from Jessica Alba, James Badge Dale, a maniacal Ed Helms, an unrecognizable Randy Couture as a freaky Slavic limo guru, Brooklyn Decker, and insane turns from Ray Liotta,

David Hasselhoff and Norman Reedus, who play warped versions of themselves. Wilson owns the role like a spitfire, Pine goes absolutely batshit bonkers for his entire screetime, Carnahan writes and directs with sleek, stylistic panache and a flair for realistic dialogue that feels elaborate but never false. I could talk this fucker up all day and type till I get carpel, but I’ll quit here and say just go watch the thing, it’s too good to be as under-seen as it is.

-Nate Hill

Pride & Glory

Pride & Glory is a gritty police melodrama that grabs the audience, shakes them till the point of concussion and wrings the life out of them with it’s nonstop intensity and performances that could raise buildings to the ground. Think I’m exaggerating or overselling? Give it a go, it’s fucking nuts. NYC cop dramas are a common occurrence out there, and have been for a long while, but something about this one just rings eerily true, rattles your cage and lets both the violence and corruption seep into the marrow of one’s viewing experience. After a drug deal erupts into multiple murder, a family of cops is thrown in an uproar. Haggard straight arrow Edward Norton is on point of investigation by boozy patriarch Jon Voight, and ends up finding out way more than he bargained for not only in regards to the NYPD, but about his fellow cop brother (Colin Farrell) too. Their third brother (underrated Noah Emmerich) is too busy taking care of his sick wife (Jennifer Ehle) to notice the corruption, or maybe does and looks the other way. Every faction adds to the pressure cooker of an atmosphere, rooted in the familial relationships that can’t withstand dangerous secrets. They should call the guy Colin Feral, because he’s a right beast as a guy whose moral compass is so out of whack he doesn’t know who he is anymore. The actor is fervently complex in his work, and makes the guy way more human than other performers would, but he’s still terrifying, whether threatening a newborn baby with a hot iron or full on brawling with Norton in a fracas of a man to man bar-fight. Voight is one of those characters who is so corrupt he doesn’t even notice it anymore, which is a dangerous avenue to arrive at when you’re in such a position of power. The supporting cast is pockmarked with fiery work from terrific actors including super underrated Carmen Ejogo, Wayne Duvall, John Ortiz, Lake Bell and two arresting turns from reliable firebrands Frank Grillo and Shea Wigham. Built around a script by Joe Carnahan, who feeds off of authentic dialogue and realistic shaping of events, this is one that pulls you right into it’s suffocating world of beleaguered sentinels of law enforcement whose eyes have become dim to that thin blue line separating order and madness. Brilliant, heavy stuff.

-Nate Hill

“Don’t be afraid.” – A review of The Grey by Josh Hains

You’re watching the opening titles click along, Open Road, Scott Free, the works all rolling through their frames in eerie silence. You think for a fraction of a second that maybe something bad will happen, maybe one of those wolves you’ve seen advertised will erupt into the frame and tear someone’s throat out and perhaps scare the hell out of you. It would be a most opportune time for a jump scare. Instead, wolves bay at the moon, their howls long and bone chilling. I think the howling is more frightening.

John Ottway (Liam Neeson) narrates the opening scene, conveying a “I-don’t-give-a-damn” no nonsense, cynical mindset. He drifts through the cold night like the ghost of someone who died with unsettled demons. A hopeless, broken man. So broken is he that Ottway contemplates and nearly commits suicide, his mouth firmly around the barrel of his rifle until the baying of wolves cuts his actions short. This understandably drawn out sequence is juxtaposed with marksman Ottway shooting a lone wolf that charged some oil drillers, a job he seems born to execute. Ottway respects the animal enough to stay with it until death, almost comforting the creature until its final breath.

A plane ride to Anchorage for oil rig workers on leave (Ottway amongst them) reveals seven more characters of worth, each one playing a significant role in the plot of the film. Flannery (Joe Anderson), the young reckless hick, scared out of his mind, nervous, panicky. Diaz (Frank Grillo) the cynical ex con with a penchant for the f-bomb and bar fights, and his pal Hernandez (Ben Bray). Lewenden (James Badge Dale), presumably a family man. Hendrick (Dallas Roberts), the sympathetic and rational religious mind of the group. Talget (Dermot Mulroney), the gutsy father. Burke (Nonso Anozie) the welcomed comedic relief in several key scenes. The plane they’re travelling in crashes, delivering easily one of the most terrifying on-screen plane crashes you’ll ever encounter on film; it’s the stuff of nightmares and fever dreams.

Ottway soon takes charge, seemingly the most experienced man in the group, making the decision to leave the crash site after Hernandez’s mangled body is found the morning after the sudden and brutal wolf attack that led to his death. The forest a few miles away will provide richer shelter against the harsh, unrelenting winter weather, and might work in the group’s favour against the wolves. Superficially,  The Grey is about a group of men the world seems to have discarded, “men unfit for mankind”, struggling against unfathomable odds. It’s a classic action adventure with elements of horror, but there’s more to this movie than just teeth and death.

The surviving men find opportunities for conversations that bring to light their wants and desires in life. Obviously, we learn the most information about our hero John Ottway, some though deep philosophical thoughts he seems to have been holding onto for ages, and some throughout the movie in the form of brief flashbacks with his wife. Though they are depicted as group at nearly all times, director Joe Carnahan (and co-writer Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, who also penned the short story Ghost Walker that The Grey is based on) understand perfectly how to treat each character as an individual guided by their own unique desire to survive this horrific ordeal, and live to tell about it. The performances across the board are all great, though Grillo and Neeson seem the most natural, helping maintain the grounded atmosphere the movie carries. Neeson deserved more praise upon release than he ever received for giving such a moving, raw performance.

At the end of the movie (*spoiler alert* for those who haven’t seen The Grey over the past five years) Ottway is alone, freezing, desperate, and significantly more broken than he was when we first encountered him, reflecting on those who fell before him by looking through their collected wallets (the real wallets of the cast). Soon realizing to his dismay that he has found the den belonging to the wolves that have relentlessly hunted him, he reflects upon the passing of his late wife, told through one last heartbreaking flashback, her final words giving him the strength to press forward and fight for his life. After taping a knife and broken bottles to his hands as the alpha wolf approaches him, he delivers the lines to an anonymous poem he mentioned to the group earlier that sat in his father’s office when he was a boy. The screen cuts to black, and we’re left stunned and profoundly moved.

Our only clue as to what went down between man and beast lies in promotional material, a brief glimpse of which is shown in a nightmare Ottway has and nowhere else, not even on the Blu-Ray’s deleted scenes. A post credits scene shows Ottway is alive, resting on the presumably dying alpha wolf, though it remains unclear if he is mortally wounded or just worn out, exhausted.

While the misrepresentation of the final product in the promotional materials irked many, it didn’t bother me like I thought it would because I still understand that the sequence (as awesome as it likely is) didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie. Liam Neeson slashing and stabbing a territorial wolf sounds like an epic fight for the ages, but that makes about as much sense as having Roy Scheider repeatedly stab the behemoth shark in Jaws to death while clinging to its dorsal fin. In a movie built on a foundation of callous logic and reasoning, that ending just wouldn’t have sat right in our stomachs, and I’m content with that.

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Joe Carnahan’s Narc: A Review by Nate Hill

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Joe Carnahan’s Narc is a proper old school ass kicking crime picture, and a blistering one that pulls no punches in the grit department either. Carnahan is clearly in love with the rugged action/genre pieces from the 60’s and 70’s that he grew up with, and every film he has made so far in his career has been reflective of that, starting with this excellent debut. He comes charging out of the gate as fast as his lead character breathlessly pursues a perp through a run down suburban neighborhood, a sequence of pure visceral brilliance that sets the tone and let’s us know he means business. Jason Patric plays Nick, an under cover narcotics officer with a decorated past and the scars to show for it, working the dankest streets of motor city Detroit. When a recently slain fellow officer’s case is reopened, he is picked to investigate, joined by the deceased cop’s former partner, Lt. Henry Oak (Ray Liotta). In this case, nothing is what it seems, agendas are hidden well, and violence constantly simmers just below the surface of every interaction and exchange of dialogue. This is especially the case with Liotta, who gives a staggering career best performance as a cop on the edge of sanity, justifying his heinous actions on the body of his slain friend. No one knows how to lose their cool like Ray, but here he is downright terrifying, a wild eyed monster and the epitome of the guy not to trust, lest you be driven down the same destructive path. Nick uncovers more secrets than he ever wished to know, and it all comes full circle in an angry, pulse rocketing confrontation that serves as one of the best blow ups in the genre, and goes to show you don’t need a huge epic gunfight to cap off your story with style and intensity. Carnahan wisely keeps the fireworks man to man, and intimate in nature, proving once again what intuition he has in the director’s chair. Chi Mcbride is always reliable, here playing the gruff police captain, and Busta Rhymes proves yet again that he’s one of the few rappers who can actually act, giving a pretty damn committed performance as a thug. Liotta owns this one in pure beast mode, but the team effort is what makes it so special, and a crime classic. Carnahan and Co. have done something timeless for crime films, and raised the bar on the intensity level one can attain when everything is in place, and firing on all cylinders. A powerhouse of a film, and a mini masterpiece.