"The Grey" Uneasily Blends Survival and Philisophical

by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic
Scene from The Grey
Scene from The Grey

Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey” is a study in surviving in the cold wilderness of the far north. It’s an odd mixture of this survival story and philosophical quandaries that ends up missing one key ingredient, and yet the film is not completely without its merits. There are points where you can feel the filmmakers really trying to get their point across, only to have it lost again in a film that gets its story stuck in a rut.

The story here is rather simple. A group of oil riggers who are stationed in the frozen north are on their way home when their plane goes down. With them is Ottway (Liam Neeson), a marksman whose job it is to keep the wolves away from the workers on the rig. Seven of the passengers on the plane survive, but they quickly realize that they are not the only ones in the area as they are almost immediately attacked by wolves. Lucky for them, Ottway also appears to be an expert on them as well.

Without any real definite plan in mind, the survivors begin to make their way south in hopes of finding rescue or being rescued. Along the way, they have to deal with being hunted as well as other obstacles that impede their way. With very few supplies and an enemy that could attack at any moment stalking them, they must brave the freezing temperatures as they fight for their survival.

“The Grey” starts off with an interesting scenario. These seven survivors are lost in the middle of nowhere, likely to freeze to death and/or be mauled and eaten by wolves if they don’t keep moving, and keep moving is exactly what they do. However, the film quickly falls into a repetition of characters being picked off one by one followed by discussions (and arguments) regarding what they should do.

This slightly changes over the course of the film as they realize they really need to band together if they are going to outwit the wolves, whose territory they’re supposedly in or near as Ottway explains early on. What doesn’t change is the continual drudge south toward what may be salvation or their death, mixed with the characters continuing to get picked off.

This wouldn’t be considered as much of a rut if it weren’t for the absence of one essential factor: character development. We never learn very much about any of the characters. In fact, the one we know the most about is Ottway, who supposedly has an ex-wife that he misses very much, but this isn’t really enough for us to form a connection to him.

There are times when the movie takes a break from the group trudging through the icy terrain to have them talk to each other about themselves a little bit, but again we don’t get very much other than that some of them are family men, which leaves these characters undeveloped and disposable with very little reason to care about who gets taken by the wolves next.

When the film does get around to its third act, things become rather strange with a couple of inexplicable scenes (scenes that I won’t go into any detail about to avoid spoilers) that will leave you scratching your head as to why two of the characters make the decisions that they do. With lack of reasoning, these scenes just felt like bizarre additions to a film that was already having trouble building its characters.

“The Grey” does have a great foundation for a story, and for awhile I was thinking the film would end on the perfect note, but perhaps the filmmakers felt that it would be too ambiguous for some to handle, so they just had to go and add a completely unnecessary final shot after the credits. My advice would be to get up and exit as soon as the credits start to roll, that way you get the ending that the film should have had.


Sure it leaves things a little ambiguous, but it was clearly the right spot to end the film and chances are you would be able to figure out what’s going to happen anyway without being subjected to that additional shot, which really only makes things just as ambiguous. Still, leaving the ending where it was right before the credits start was a good way to ensure that at least most people will see the right ending, so at least the filmmakers can be applauded for daring to take it in that direction in the first place. 2.5/4 stars.
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