I hate wolves. I'm going to make a movie about hating wolves. But I need a plot, so I'll make Liam Neeson crash in Alaska and have to kill wolves to survive. Yeah. So appears to be the thought process that led to the new action-thriller The Grey, a "monster movie" thinly veiled as a dramatic and deep survival tale.
Joe Carnahan, what has happened to you?
Narc was one of the best movies of 2002, but Carnahan took four years off to become less of a director, returning to direct the zany and overrated Smokin' Aces and 2010's entertaining but far-from-groundbreaking The A-Team. It's only with The Grey that Carnahan edges - no, runs straight into - offensive territory.
I'm no tree hugger. I think PETA is a silly organization. But I do have an affinity for animals, including wolves, which are graceful creatures and generally harmless to human beings. In The Grey, Carnahan treats wolves as human-hunting monstrosities who stalk and tease their prey just because they can - before picking off the humans one by one like a furry Michael Myers. Having wolves as a threat is nothing new, but it's Carnahan's overblown approach to the animals that makes the movie absurdly bad.
Most noticeably, the wolves are hilariously unrealistic. The Grey is set against a very real world, but the wolves look like mutated freaks. They are led by the alpha male, which in Carnahan's world means the larger, blacker and uglier monster-of-a-wolf. Beyond their appearance, Carnahan stretches believability even further with the way they act. Everything about the wolves is unrealistic, and since the sole threat in The Grey is the wolves, the entire film is ruined. It truly seems as though Carnahan has a deep fear and hatred of the elegant creatures, and wanted to share his feelings with a paying audience.
Of course, the sole threat should have been nature. The wolves - real wolves, not Hollywood monster-wolves - can be a part of that threat, but shouldn't be the only threat. The concept of the movie is great, pitting several men against the elements and forcing them to survive on next to nothing. Early on, The Grey remains on track, the plane crash and initial scenes following the disaster visually interesting and suspenseful. But the story quickly spirals out of control as the men get attacked by wolves, Liam Neeson's badass attitude becomes more and more annoying (why won't anyone find them if they stay near the plane?), and the men get attacked by wolves some more.
In one unrealistic scene, the men must leap and climb across a huge ravine to escape a pack of wolves. The final man across doesn't fare so well, the rope breaking and his body plummeting to the ground and to the edge of death. But wait! Killing him off in that natural way wouldn't be enough. The wolves appear, somehow bypassing the giant ravine, to eat the poor bastard. Damn sneaky wolves!
In another, two men get chased by wolves, forcing them into the river. It must be the warmest river in Alaska, because even though it's winter, Liam Neeson emerges soaking wet several minutes later suffering no effects of hypothermia. After Neeson's constant insistence that the men do certain things to avoid freezing to death, it's pretty shocking that Carnahan doesn't even attempt to explain how the man doesn't freeze to death. Liam Neeson is just that manly.
Oh, and where did the wolves go?
As silly as the movie is, Carnahan interlaces the action with flashbacks and monologues to God and other things a real drama could pull off, but not a movie like The Grey. He tries to go deep, but the result is just a muddled mess, the film overly long (nearly two hours) and increasingly boring as the plot progresses and characters get killed. The only good thing about the anticlimactic ending is that it meant I could go home.
The Grey is the worst type of film, the kind that on the surface looks great, but is rotting inside. It completely misses the mark. The Grey commits the ultimate sin of being deathly serious while being utterly terrible. It's so close to being good that its awfulness makes it all the more disappointing.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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