While there is an ample amount of wolf punching/slaying/shit talking in Liam Neeson's new flick "The Grey," the film is a lot more than it's simple (yet effective) marketing. This is a movie about what men do when faced with insurmountable odds and trauma. Simply put, who are we in the grand scope of nature? Or in the language of the Liam Neeson action audience: You think you could hang out in the wild with demonic wolves trying to eat you son?
Neeson, at the height of his dramatic and ass kicking powers in this flick, plays John Ottway, a lonesome man who works on an Alaska oil field shooting the wolves that get too close the workers. When the plane the oil workers crashes in the Alaskan tundra, the survivors must fight for their survival against the elements and the man eating wolves that are following their every move. Before I go deeper into why this movie is so fresh, let me just say, that if you have a phobia of flying, you're going to want to peace the hell out of the theater during the plane crash sequence. It's straight up terrifying. Realistic as hell, it's a stunning piece of filmmaking.
Stuck out in the wild, Ottway takes the leadership position amongst the survivors. He both helps dying men come to grips with their end moments, advises strategies for dealing with the fury fiends on their tale, and rapidly puts down mutinies by promising people, in his best "Taken" voice that they will be "swallowing a lot of blood if they fuck with him." Neeson plays the elite alpha male for the first two thirds of them and it's just as satisfying as you'd expect. It's just like his parts in "Batman Begins" or "Phantom Menance" just with more swearing and higher stakes.
But it's the final third of this movie where the movie really shines. The film succeeds at examining just what makes men so tough. Where do they draw their strength? From each other? From God? From some inner determination to survive? By the time the film's ambiguous ending comes snarling at you, every viewer may be examining these things themselves, and that is one of the film's strongest elements.
I wrote a post on Friday "The Grey" presents Neeson with an opportunity to evolve as an action star. I can happily report that he succeeds in doing this, not just because he can add wolves as something he has punched (in addition to jedis, albanians, and super-heroes) but because it adds a much needed level of humanity to his action star persona. Thanks to his thundering performance, he carries this movie to the levels of gritty survival tale you're hoping for, and then delivers even more!