Directed by Joe Carnahan
The Grey, an action film that reunites director Joe Carnahan and his A-Team star, Liam Neeson, often feels designed as a series of punishments to the camera operator, who huddles close as the film’s plane-crash survivors free-fall over cliffs, get pulled under by rapids, and fight with each other, not to mention an ever-growing pack of wolves. Even the visceral atmosphere comes off as the product of escalating acts of hazing.
Overall, the movie takes up a somewhat less cartoonish version of the engorged masculinity that’s been a dominant feature of Carnahan’s work since Narc, a promisingly knotty cop drama from nearly a decade ago. The octane runs high here (“I am going to start beating the shit out of you in five seconds…”), but deep down most everyone also has a good woman and/or child tucked away safely back in the domestic sphere.
Neeson is first seen patrolling the forlorn perimeter of an Alaskan oil refinery, as wolves howl ominously in the distance. Recently separated from his wife, he flirts with suicide, before boarding a flight back to civilization full of salt-and-pepper rowdies (many, like Dermot Mulroney’s character, with conspicuously darker mustaches).
The plane goes down, in a suitably harrowing sequence, leaving the survivors to hunker in the wrecked fuselage, and then trudge straight for the nearest visible tree line. Liam assumes leadership practically from the plane’s impact—particular set of skills: knowing everything about wolves, and how to fire shotgun cartridges with sticks—but must suffer with the dwindling number of others through bad group dynamics (mostly courtesy of Frank Grillo’s neck-tattooed ex-con) and gruesome beast attacks.
Much of the action is marvelously nerve-racking, but The Grey only gets worse at filling in the less eventful pockets. After a while the film takes up the subject of its main character’s faithlessness, and before long the alpha male on the snowdrift is swearing at the alpha male in the sky—en route to one of the silliest flashback reveals in recent memory.
Opens January 27