It has been pretty interesting to watch Liam Neeson reinvent himself as a bad ass action star over the past few years. Just look at movies like Taken (2008), Unknown (2006), Clash of the Titans (2010), Batman Begins, The A-Team, the Star Wars prequels, and now The Grey(2012). Now, these are not strictly action films, but there is a certain level of tough guy attitude required for them. With The Grey, Neeson gets to stretch beyond pure action hero and journey into some interesting emotional depths in this reunion with his A-Team director Joe Carnahan. This is a movie that sees old school Neeson pair up with modern day action Neeson to create a character of interest and depth.
The Grey is a contemplative, haunting, thrill ride that sees a reluctant hero struggle with personal demons while also struggling with basic survival in a harsh landscape. Sure, it is pushed forward with what is probably not the most realistic portrayal of a pack of wolves (I wanted to say wolf pack, but that gives me images of Liam Neeson being hunted by Zach Galifiniakis) ever shown, but as a metaphor it works quite well. In a way, I am reminded of Spielberg's War of the Worlds, which plays like the nightmare of a father losing his children with the fears manifesting as an alien invasion. This movie has its share of thrills, but it is not really about the thrills, they certainly serve their purpose, but there is more to the subtext.
At the center of the story is Ottway (Neeson), a security worker at an oil drilling plant in Alaska. His main job is to keep wolves away. We learn his wife has left him and he is seeing less and less purpose to his life and rapidly approaching the point of attempting suicide. However, he chooses not to eat the bullet and when his term is up, he gets on the transport plane with the rest of the crew to return to civilization. This is where things turn and he comes face to face with his mortality and with his past.
The Grey is a movie that, on the surface, is a man Vs. wild tale of survival, a grueling story of staying alive in the face of certain death. It is a little like The Thing in this regard, if Kurt Russell had to face off with a pack of wolves instead of a shape shifting alien. Here, we get to watch Liam Neeson and a dwindling group of survivors battle across tundra and through woods. It is an exciting ride.