Blu-ray Review: THE GREY Is Surprisingly Light On Wolf Punching

The characters stranded with Liam Neeson among the wilds of mountainous, snowy Alaska are a motley crew of criminals, the lost, and the broken whose choices in life have led them to the very the end of the continent, and through fate, have found their lives in more desperate circumstances still after a harrowing plane crash. I suspect if you asked any of them why there were now forced to make a southbound trek from the wreckage of their flight towards what they hope will be safety, at least a couple of them would attribute it to a well-deserved hell (or at least purgatory) for lives poorly lived.

But making his characters suffer, bringing them to some great epiphanies about their lives or some sudden change isn't what The Grey director Joe Carnahan seems especially interested in. While undoubtedly the six men making the journey for survival (and that number is always dwindling, dwindling) have their share of sins to answer for, it's not really how they lived that concerns the Narc director, but how these men face death and die. And death is around every corner: from the threat of starvation, through exhaustion, through sheer stupidity and fear, and of course, from the ever-present wolves that begin stalking our cast even as the flames of their wreckage still lights up the night.

And the whole thing is so grim, and full of hurt, and grief, and there's a strange poetry to the rhythm of it--the men walk, they talk, they occasionally fight the wolves and the elements (and each other) and they die. Neeson's character Ottway, a crack shot responsible for clearing the area around the oil rig clear of wolves knows the animals and he knows death. He's there in many cases to guide the other actors to their ends, soothing them in those last minutes. Ottway's narration throughout the film comes from a letter he's written to his wife and given what the movie is about and the hangdog expression his character wears throughout, it's clear that death isn't done with him yet.

As shot by DP Masanobu Takayanagi, the wilds of Alaska (well, British Columbia standing in for Alaska) are imposing, the trees, the mountains, the cold and weigh down on the characters. It's an imposing movie to look at. As for the wolves, we hear them more than we see them, growling and snarling in the dark and off in the distance. They're a less successful element of the movie, most of them onscreen poorly-constrasted CG creations (it's the color, which is too vivid against the snow and the grain of the movie).

Again, there's a poetry to the whole movie that upends what could easily be a simple survival movie, a bloody thing about men fighting wolves, each other, and the elements. The Grey takes its time to watch these men struggle (and fail) to survive and there's a kind of beauty in that. Don't go into it expecting Neeson to give you another one of the tough guy roles he's been unexpectedly given since Taken--this isn't that movie. It's something else, something terrible and more interesting besides.

Special Features

The disc includes deleted scenes and feature commentary by director Joe Carnahan and a couple of his cohorts making the movie. Carnahan jokes that they're drinking whiskey during the viewing, and there's a certain amount of on-air score settling going on that leads me to believe he wasn't joking so much. Carnahan is candid about making some of the tough calls to get the movie cut so it has just the right tone, alludes to tensions on the set, and generally treats the commentary less like a guide to the making of The Grey and more a series of alternately fond and angry recollections.

The Disc

This is a modern studio film (albeit with a slightly lower than normal budget) so you can be sure that it looks good. Carnahan goes for a slightly grainy look which makes the image feel extra textured on larger screens. The effect is scaled back for nighttime scenes avoiding grain storms. It's a good-looking disc.

The Grey is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.

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