Combustible Celluloid
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With: Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Nonso Anozie, Joe Anderson
Written by: Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, based on a story by Jeffers
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
MPAA Rating: R for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language
Running Time: 117
Date: 12/11/2011

The Grey (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Glances with Wolves

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Wilderness survival movies (Alive, The Edge, The Way Back, etc.) can sometimes get fairly metaphysical. "Man versus nature" is a big theme that many great artists have grappled with.

In his new movie The Grey, director Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces, The A-Team) gets a little more serious than usual. Yet he has still crafted a movie less concerned with deep thoughts than with raw guts.

Liam Neeson stars as Ottway, a brooding, withdrawn rifleman, whose job is to shoot wolves that venture too close to an Alaskan oil drilling station. "A job at the end of the world," he murmurs in his narration.

When the time comes for some R&R, a plane carrying the men back to Anchorage crashes in the middle of the snowy wilderness. Only eight survive, including Ottway, who takes the lead.

He stumbles upon a wolf eating a dead body and engages it, thereby angering an entire pack. He decides that the men must leave the wreckage and make for the trees, or die.

Carnahan -- who was briefly a student at SFSU -- gives his men plenty to do between wolf attacks. One of them, Diaz (Frank Grillo), has his braggadocio tested, and Talget (Dermot Mulroney) must face his fear of heights.

But if the movie had been a little more serious, it might have turned into one of those stories in which man regresses into a primal animal state.

The main focus is not so much the battle of man versus himself, or of man versus nature, but simply man versus wolf.

Thus, the men sharpen sticks and plan their attack. When they manage to kill a wolf, they cook him and eat him while standing around the fire. This is done partly for food, but mainly to send a message to the other wolves.

Carnahan, who co-wrote the screenplay with the original short story writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, nicely balances this conflict, using the characters' personalities, the sinister, chilly backdrop, and a good dose of pulp.

Neeson is a huge help. He's a full-grown actor, not a living visual effect or a body builder, and not in the least boyish. He has a career full of clout, but knows how to go lowbrow.

Carnahan and Neeson last worked together in the silly, goofy The A-Team, which definitely focused on "boys" and/or "guys." By contrast, The Grey is one of those rare movies that focuses on men.

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