Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Grey

The Grey is an extraordinary tale of man vs. nature with various philosophical issues cropping up throughout. To start we find Liam Neeson, in this third early year good movie in a row, an oil rig worker in the far north. As far as I know Alaska hasn’t yet been opened up for rigging but I’m sure it will be in short order so you can assume this is set in the near future. Liam, playing Ottway, hunts wolves to keep them away from the rig, and describes his fellow workers as the scum of the earth. I personally might have this job in a handful of months. I don’t have much issue adjusting to harsh conditions nor stupid people, but I have heard similar tales of their assholery.

Following a spectacular plane crash on the way back to Anchorage Ottway finds himself and only 6 others alive. It didn’t occur to me immediately but eventually I picked up on it; this is basically Seven Samurai with wolves. Objectively the original cut of Seven Samurai is one of the best films ever made and the big reason it’s better than the Magnificent Seven is the cast of characters is much stronger. The Grey is now in the third tier of such films. The wolves maraud a group of 1-3 samurai and 4-6 peasants, coming every now and then to steal food from them. They don’t have much personality development but the samurai have loads and a variety of tactics are utilized to improve the humans’ chance of survival.

This film could have been irrefutably outstanding, but the cast brings it down ever so slightly. Liam Neeson is fantastic as always, and hopefully he makes another 10 of these early year movies to improve the January-March slate. A few of his compatriots are decent actors but the “young” character is a little too irritating. I know it’s intentional that he’s annoying but there should be more than bizarre charm from him. This is another thing in Seven Samurai, the closest parallel is easily the best character in that entire film, in this he’s the weak link.

Still, as the film goes on you feel for even the weaker characters. The way it poses philosophical questions could be construed as overdone or even vaguely suggestive. I thought it worked out okay even not agreeing with the overarching point. Aside from the cast the only other weakness this film has is you have to make a few logic leaps in the last half hour to believe what happens to the samurai. They’re not that distracting or completely impossible but they’re certainly still there, but assuming you can suspend your disbelief enough this shouldn’t bother you much.

Overall The Grey is the best of the trio of Liam Neeson movies over the past few years. I don’t think it’s eligible for the Oscars but who knows, this is certainly Best Actor/Best Cinematography/Best Picture worthy (at least for noms). The snowy landscapes and harsh environmental noises are fantastic. The airplane crash is one of the best of its kind in cinematic history. If you like Liam Neeson as much as I do this film will endear you from start to finish.

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