Tag Archives: The Grey

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

“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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PTS PRESENTS PRODUCER’S NOTES WITH BILL JOHNSON

JOHNSON POWERCAST

11948180_10205276886897937_292425837_n (2)Podcasting Them Softly is proud to present a chat with the unwitting Godfather of our podcast, producer Bill Johnson from Lotus Entertainment. Bill‘s company was responsible for helping to produce THE GREY, SOUTHLAND TALES, THE KILLER ELITE, MAGGIE, SONG ONE, and most importantly to us, the Andrew Dominik directed crime film KILLING THEM SOFTLY, which is the movie that brought Frank and Nick together as one, movie-loving unit. An entrepreneur, philanthropist, and all around movie-buff, Bill‘s company has some very exciting projects on the horizon, and we were honored that he found some time in his busy schedule to chat with us. We hope you enjoy!