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GREY, THE (director/writer: Joe Carnahan; screenwriter: Ian Mackenzie Jeffers; based on the short story “Ghost Walker” by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers; cinematographer: Masanobu Takayanagi; editors: Roger Barton/Jason Hellman; music: Marc Streitenfeld; cast: Liam Neeson (Ottway), Frank Grillo (Diaz), Dermot Mulroney (Talget), Dallas Roberts (Henrick), Joe Anderson (Flannery), Nonso Anozie (Burke), Ben Bray (Hernandez), James Badge Dale (Lewenden), Anne Openshaw (Ottway’s wife); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jules Daly/Joe Carnahan/Ridley Scott/Mickey Liddell; Open Road Films; 2012)

A gritty survival thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A gritty survival thriller directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan (“Narc”/”A-Team”/”Smokin Aces”). It’s based on the short story“Ghost Walker” by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, who also co-writes the screenplay. The once promising Irish theatrical actor Liam Neeson, who played Oskar Schindler in his arty acting days, has found his niche in recent years starring in multiplex action B films with A budgets, where the pay is more lucrative than from art-house films, and once again does a classy job lifting such a limited film to greater heights because of his intelligent acting–in this case through his subdued but emotional handling of his noir-like character, a broken man who is trapped in a spot where there’s no escape.I can’t think of a better actor for this terse action hero pic than the fifty-something Neeson, especially since John Wayne is no longer with us. The role was originally set for Bradley Cooper, and I don’t think that casting decision would have worked.

Ottway (Liam Neeson) is the world-weary hunter of wolves, a sharpshooter employed by a big oil company to kill the bears and wolves in order to protect the oil riggers when working in the field. Stranded in an oil outpost somewhere in the wilderness of Alaska, the despondent Ottway contemplates suicide and writes an emotional last letter to his ex-wife (Anne Openshaw), seen in flashbacks. But the dead-man walking takes a flight the next day back to civilization from a plane chartered by the oil company. The plane crashes somewhere in the remote Alaskan wilderness and Ottway is among the seven oil company roughneck survivors. To survive the men must deal with the cold, blizzard white-out conditions, no food, the frozen tundra, their physical and psychological wounds and the knowledge that there’s little or no chance of being rescued because of their remote location. They also must deal with a vicious pack of large wolves led by an alpha wolf that starts picking them off one at a time because the men happened to land on their hunting ground. Ottway takes responsibility of leading the argumentative group to safety, away from the wolf hunting territory, thereby becoming the alpha human leader. But his leadership is challenged by a hostile ghetto-talking ex-con Diaz (Frank Grillo). The other men have equally compelling stories for working in such a hostile location and being so downtrodden; they include Talget (Dermot Mulroney), Ben Bray (Hernandez), Lewenden (James Badge Dale), Henrick (Dallas Roberts), Burke (Nonso Anozie) and the chatty Flannery (Joe Anderson). The men ultimately stop fighting with each other and fess up to their fears and unite to stave off the ravaging wolves. What makes Ottway the strongest character, even if he might be the saddest, is his reservoir of inner strength encapsulated in the memory of a four-line poem his late father wrote, the only poem he ever wrote, which was framed and hung in the study: “Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.” Ottway repeats it many times with passion before and after the many attacks by the wolves, giving the pic a chilling sense that nature isn’t only beautiful but could be cruel.

The wolves are men in wolf suits (designed by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger), who keep things nightmarish scary. The film is magnificently shot by first-class cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi on location in British Columbia. The story is executed with grace and the macho elements of this men’s adventure pic wisely takes a back seat to subtle storytelling and to exploring man’s gentler side. Such a well-realized pic coming from such a commercial director, who made his rep with louder crime films, is indeed a surprise–a pleasant one, I might add.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”