Mike reviews "The Grey"... Warning- Minor Spoilers Ahead!
"Getting real about 'The Grey'"
Before I get into the review, let me first say a little something about art in the form of story/film. The most successful stories have been those where the main character becomes more than the mortal he was at the beginning. He becomes a hero. This is why men associate themselves with the likes of Indiana Jones, John McClain, Batman, Captain Kirk, etc. There is something that speaks to the core of a man about triumph, about overcoming the odds, whatever they may be. How many young men grew up to be detectives because of Dirty Harry movies? We associate with these larger-than-life characters because as we watch we're thinking "What would I do in that situation?". And the hero does what we want to believe we can do. There is something to aspire to, even if the end result is beyond reasonable reach. All of this resonates within my being, and played in the back of my mind as I went to see this movie that was sure to leave me feeling like I could take on the world (or a few wolves with bad attitudes).
When I first saw the teaser trailer, I was floored. A movie like this only comes out every once in a great while. The last one I can think of is 'The Edge' back in 1997. As much as I like sci-fi and straight-up action movies (complete with one-liners), nothing has as much impact on me as a down-to earth survival film. Man vs. the elements. The trailer promised breathtaking landscapes, adventure, ingenuity, and Liam Neeson being as tough as he's ever been on screen. And little, if any, in-yo-face CGI. I can't tell you how pumped I was for this film.
So the day finally came. I arranged to go with my friend, who had similar expectations as I did. And... we were both let down, to put it plainly. I remember saying to another friend, "I don't see how they can ruin this movie!" The landscapes, and adventure were there, for sure. But a key element was missing. I'll get to that shortly. First, a couple snags for me, with the film.
1. I noticed right away the language used. I know, I know. Some of you are rolling your eyes right now. I can assure you I'm no prude. But the older I get, the more I truly feel that it really is just lazy writing. I know the main cast is a bunch of tough oil pipeline workers. I get it. They're rough around the edges. I get it. There are many other ways to portray that, and it has been done successfully over decades of cinema. If every other word (literally) is "The F-Word", it loses a lot of its punch. So when the word is actually appropriate, it doesn't have the desired impact. Its lost in a sea of more of the same. It is used quite unnecessarily in this film, and would have benefited greatly from holding back a bit.
2. Some shaky camera work during the slim amount of actual fights with wolves left me unsatisfied.
3. SPOILER!: A possible change for the main character, Ottway, blatantly, intentionally does not happen. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, of course, but mine being what they are, my heart sank a bit as he finally offers God the chance to come through, and when not immediately responded to within 30 seconds, voices that he'll do it himself. One more downer for the audience. Some character arc is desirable, and the movie at this point seeks to strip away all hope, mostly succeeding.
Those are some minor problems, really. The biggest problem is one that develops as the movie goes on, and alters the entire mood of the film. If you saw the teaser trailer, or any of the other subsequent trailers, you know what peaked your interest. Its the same thing that peaked mine, and its what I spoke of at the beginning. You want to see the main character, down to nothing but a knife and broken bottles to hopefully even the playing field with the ferocious adversaries. That's what was promised! And I believe they knew they were luring an audience with that promise. As tough as Liam ('Ottway', in the film) was in the movie, he doesn't get to being the last man standing until just about the end. Then you think, "Now here we go!". But you're wrong to think that, because here we don't go. Most of his time on his own is spent sulking and lamenting his situation. Finally the showdown is about to take place, and.... it doesn't happen. Or does it? We don't know because its a cliffhanger ending. So the main reason you want to see the movie (I speak for myself, but I know I'm not alone), isn't in the movie. Nate and I left the theater, not with the elated feeling of triumph, but with very heavy hearts, and a sober outlook for the drive back home. Neither of us really knew what to say. (Head over to hazardpublishing.com for Nate's thoughts on the film).
But.... BUT.... having been almost a week since the viewing, I want to see it again. For some reason, the film is haunting me. It raises some heavy questions, and I can't shake the feeling. The scene where Ottway is getting ready for battle, taping bottles and a knife to his hands, getting ready to go full-tilt "into the frey", is beautifully juxtaposed not with tension-building adventure music, but with a very emotional and somber piece of film score. That moment alone made quite an impression on me. Liam's performance, in my humble opinion, was top-notch, and everything was filmed well. The movie was very realistic. Almost too realistic in some cases. Had I been expecting something else, I would have enjoyed it more the first time around. But the residue the film has left me with leads me to believe that its one that will grow on me more in the near future. Its a brilliant piece of work, but I believe it was misrepresented. There are a number of things that were in the teaser trailer that I know got cut from the film, so there are some choice bits that were left out. One can only hope for an extended edition director's cut on DVD.
Now for the grade (on a scale of 1-5 for each category):
Visual Appeal: 5
Use of Humor: 2
Special Effects: 4
Weapons used: 3
Total: 39 out of possible 50
With all that said, I recommend seeing the film, but I recommend not looking for an action/adventure movie that strikes those triumphant chords in your soul.