Saturday, August 04, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Grey (2012) ***½

R, 117 min.
Director: Joe Carnahan
Writers: Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (also short story “Ghost Walker”)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonzo Anozie, James Badge Dale, Ben Hernandez

“The Grey” is sparse, like the landscape within it. In keeping it simple, director Joe Carnahan finds the strength in the story of “The Grey”. Simplicity has not always been a trait of Carnahan’s writing or direction. This change shows maturity for the director.

Of course, he’s helped greatly by the work of one of his repeat actors, Liam Neeson. Neeson has turned into an unlikely action star; and it’s nice to see him in a more intelligent action thriller than the typical fare. Despite the story’s simplicity, Neeson’s character is quite complex. The supporting cast is a little more of a type list, but that works to keep the focus on Neeson’s character, and this story is really just about him.

He plays a sniper for an Alaskan pipeline company. He keeps the other workers safe from the wolves that frequent the wilderness of the area. The crew takes a plane for a scheduled leave in Anchorage, and the plane crashes in the stark Alaskan wilderness. It’s no surprise that the wolves eventually move in. The survivors must get over their own issues first, but the movie doesn’t linger on those less interesting aspects. The small group’s survival against the wolves provides an original story that doesn’t depend on the typical survival clichés, like personality conflicts. Those conflicts are there, but only to illustrate how the wolves will work on the group of men as prey. They are quickly moved past and Neeson is given the reigns to ponder in a way we rarely get to see action heroes think.

That’s not to say that this movie works like a meditation on its themes. No, it is action through and through, non-stop throughout most of its two hour running time. It greatest asset, however, is that it never cheats the characters or the situations it gives us. That makes it unforgiving. Sometimes that’s what’s called for. This movie is all about what’s called for.

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