“Once more into the fray…”
I’m in the minority but I quite liked Joe Carnahan’s The A Team remake. Nothing he has done before however prepared me for this stripped down tale of a motley group of oil workers battling against the elements. Wrongly advertised as a film about Liam Neeson punching wolves in the face The Grey divided audiences with its downbeat approach and ambiguous ending. The Grey is an entry into the nature’s going to fucking eat you genre of films, the daddy of which is Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and so far has included predators as varied as crocodiles, piranhas, alligators, lions, and anacondas, yet it stands apart from all of these with its melancholy, and its doomed machismo is closer in spirit to the bleakness of Walter Hill or Sam Fuller.
Working amongst the roughnecks at an oil drilling refinery Ottway makes his living shooting wildlife for the company. At the beginning we see him writing a letter to his dead wife and almost joining her by putting his rifle in his mouth. Oddly enough the howling of the wolves in the distance seems to be the thing that pulls him back from the brink as if they are telling him not now, come to us. Animal rights activists have claimed the depiction of timber wolves is not entirely accurate and these animals rarely attack humans. Fair enough then but while Carnahan aims for realism in every other aspect of the film the wolves are fantastical. They are merciless antagonists, their eyes glowing in the darkness as they circle their prey. These wolves are more akin to the monsters lurking in the forest in a fairytale than real animals.
Usually humans are treated as sport in these kinds of movies as we watch them picked off one by one until the hero saves the day. Carnahan and his co-writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers screenplay is an odd mixture of the perfunctory and the poetic as they balance the thrills with sequences where the men reveal details about their lives. “Who do you love? Let them take you there,’ Ottway (Neeson) says in comfort to a dying man which is essentially what the film is about. What do these men have to live for if anything at all? Carnahan’s existentialist approach justifies his handling of the ending; the emphasis on what has been lost rather than the confrontation between the human alpha male and his wolf counterpart.
It is a film of haunting power aided by Masanobu Takayanagi’s beautiful photography and Marc Streitenfeld’s score. Neeson’s tough soulful performance is outstanding, a natural leader of men the film makes great use of his physicality and his understated delivery of dialogue. Whether threatening to kick the shit out of somebody or reciting poetry there is no doubt he is contemporary cinema’s finest Alpha Male.
Deleted scenes which to be honest I never watch, I’d rather not see what didn’t make the cut, and a director’s commentary with Joe Carnahan.