Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Grey and Fighting Till the End: A Movie Review

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Director: Joe Carnahan.

Writers: Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers.

Irish Catholic stubborness or that "never say die" attitude is one of the themes in Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers' The Grey. The protagonist, John (Liam Neeson), repeats one of his father's favourite poems to make this theme apparent: "[o]nce more into the fray./ Into the greatest fight I’ll ever know./ Live and die on this day./ Live and die on this day." Besides sounding very much like King Henry's Harfleur speech in Henry V, this short poem gives John the heart to keep pushing in difficult situations, while all his comrades fall by the wayside. Do these lines get him through a plane crash, blizzard and circling wolves? Fans of thrillers are encouraged to see this movie to find out.

John is a hunter and assigned to a group of roughnecks in the inhospitable Alaskan climate. Once their job is complete these characters board a plane for Anchorage, but things go wrong early and often. The plane crashes and a pack of wolves circles the survivors. A nightwatchmen is one of the first to be devoured and now John must get the few remaining men to civilization. This is a challenging task as a 40km/hr wind at -15C sucks their breath away. Those unfit or unmotivated soon find themselves a snack for ferocious beasts who usually attack at night or nightfall. Will anyone survive this nightmare scenario?

The Grey includes a lot of film elements of survivalist horror or a of survivalist thriller in genre. This style of filmmaking has seen a minor resurgence in films like Thirst (2010) and Wrecked (2010). Unlike Thirst, there is no desert here. Instead, there are miles and miles of rugged territory to escape from. As well, The Grey differentiates itself from Wrecked, starring Adrien Brody, by offering more than one character. Their is a diverse cast of minor characters in The Grey and each person has something they are struggling with. Their motivations differ also. Some are motivated by the basest of human emotions, fear, and others are motivated by love (for family). Those motivated by the latter feeling live longer, but all paths seem to lead into the maws of their pursuers.

And there is more than the wilderness to deal with. John (Neeson), the leader of the group, has someone to compete against. The writer's have crafted another character named John (Frank Grillo) and having two characters named the same is not a coincidence. The John played by Neeson embodies several positive character elements like courage, empathy, honesty and others. Meanwhile, the other character is more motivated by greed, fear, and short sighted goals. Thus, one John is the antithesis of the other. Sometimes characters in film show the opposite qualities of the protagonist in order to more fully show the protagonist's positive or negative qualities. Often matching a black background with a white foreground makes the white shine brighter. If a screenwriter is really intelligent (like the ones here), then they will use a character like the second John (Diaz) to also externally show the protagonist's inner conflict. This is the case with The Grey, as the protagonist deals with his recurring issues of death through the second John.

The Grey, much like Jeffers' earlier Death Sentence (2007), is full of exciting and pulse pounding sequences. Thankfully, there is a deeper meaning in the story and The Grey is a film that deserves a viewing for being bold and for drawing many interesting characters. The thrills come from both within the surviving group and outside from the encircling wolves. All of this tension makes for some great cinema. See this one in theatres and experience the film with a big screen and booming sound system to really feel that tingle up your spine as more and more characters breath their last. Thankfully, some manage to fight on.

Overall: 8 out of 10 (the best films show a central character in doubt, great writing, action packed, good pacing, a message of fighting till the end).

The Grey fanpage:

The Grey's Fan Page

Another review of this film at Fangoria (Michael Gingold):

The Grey at Fangoria

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