Joe Carnahan has thankfully got his groove back. After giving us the exquisite 'Narc,' a crime thriller starring Ray Liotta and Jason Patric, the director slipped a bit with big Hollywood fare, including 'Smokin’ Aces' and 'The A-Team.' His latest movie is 'The Grey,' an unrelenting look at a group of men braving the elements and a ravenous pack of timber wolves in the middle of Alaska. The film is one of the most intense moviegoing experiences ever to hit the big screen; it earns its R rating with unexpected violence and a palpable sense of fear.
Step aside Sarah Palin. This is the new image of Alaska: unforgiving, terrifying, cold and harsh.
Liam Neeson plays John Ottway, a troubled man with a mysterious past. He works at an oil drilling facility, helping pick off the nasty wolves in the area with his trusty rifle. If they get too close to the workers, he trains his eye on the beasts and takes them down with one shot.
His life, we come to know early on, is a depressing one. He has flashbacks to a woman who left him, and with a deadbeat job in the middle of nowhere, his future prospects look dull. He figures the best way out is to go the way of the wolves, but something stops him from committing suicide, something he can’t quite explain.
With their tenure complete, the workers at the oil drilling camp board a plane headed for Anchorage. Like fishermen returned from the ocean, they have thoughts of lovers and better food waiting for them on the other side.
But this is a Joe Carnahan movie, so it doesn’t turn out to be a peaceful flight. The plane hits nasty turbulence and eventually breaks apart, falling through a blizzard to the white nothingness below. Ottway wakes up among the carnage with a newfound enthusiasm to live.
After assembling the crew and building a fire in the hull of the broken plane, these unlikely survivors begin doing what appears to come unnaturally to them: They survive. Their two main problems are the cold, which causes their grizzled beards to freeze, and a pack of nearby timber wolves.
‘The Grey’ doesn’t pull any punches in its filmmaking. I was half-expecting a mash-up of ‘The Edge,’ a great wilderness thriller starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, and ABC’s ‘Lost.’ But what I found was much more fierce. From the plane crash, which is a hellish experience to sit through, all the way to the wolf attacks, ‘The Grey’ is an action-packed adventure where all of the action is real, savage and, at times, graphic. In many ways, the movie plays out like a horror film, with the wolves taking the role of the slasher and the survivors becoming the victims who are picked off one by one.