Grey, The

It’s Not Nice to Fool (With) Mother Nature

Main Cast: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney

Director: Joe Carnahan

In general, I enjoy man vs. wilderness thrillers.  Mother Nature doesn’t have that annoying habit of stopping to explain her evil plot allowing just enough time for the deus ex machina savior to arrive and spoil her villainy.  I also think Liam Neeson makes a pretty good geezer badass (a la Taken).  So I figured The Grey had a decent chance of being reasonably entertaining.  I failed to take into account just how much bad filmmaking can interfere with my viewing pleasure.

Neeson stars as Ottway, a sniper for an oil company in the Arctic, taking out wolves before they take out men.  He’s good at it.  Everybody who works there is damaged goods in some way – divorced, ex-con, something that makes them willing to go thousands of miles from civilization for months at a time.  This particular motley crew is about to head back to the real world except…their plane crashes.  Bummer.  The few remaining survivors are stuck in the middle of nowhere.  With wolves.  Lots and lots of wolves.  Neeson takes charge (knowing a little something about wolves) and off they go, walking to, well, somewhere free of stalking wolves.

It doesn’t sound too bad on paper, and the first twenty minutes or so are fairly effective, as we see Neeson’s character mourning over a failed love affair, get to know some of the other survivors and plunge into the central dilemma.

Then, sadly, we see our fist wolf.  Worst.  Effects.  Ever.  In an age when Andy Sirkis is one of the best actors around without ever being seen on screen, special effects of this quality are unforgiveable.  The wolves are not CGI, they’re animatronic.  I’m not kidding.  They look like a sad exhibit at an out of date natural history museum.  The Alpha is especially pathetic as he squares off with the least likable of the survivors.  Still shots of him growling without moving his mouth are followed by…more still shots of him growling without moving his mouth.  Even if the rest of the film were brilliant, those wolves would have ruined the entire experience.

The rest of the film is not brilliant, but it’s not as horrible as those canines.  The setting is bleak and stark and frightening, with white-out conditions and the threat of attack omnipresent with every step (though none of the men are wearing enough clothing to keep them from freezing to death).  Neeson does his best to be the gruff loner who holds the group together (though his flashback scenes are ineffectual, unclear and don’t provide sufficient explanation for his will to continue).  Dermot Mulroney shows up as a survivor and does a pretty good job with his role as resident nebbish.  The rest of the cast is forgettable.

Mother Nature definitely shows her teeth in The Grey.  Sadly, they are animatronic, pathetic teeth and there is no way the weak human drama of a bunch of survivors running to nowhere (they have no idea where they are, no idea where they are heading) can overcome such a glaring, foolish flaw.  2 stars out of 5 (Geezer Neeson earns the second star) but no recommendation.  If you’re in the mood for man vs. wilderness, see the brilliant Into the Wild, Frozen (not great but pretty good), 127 Hours (okay if you can stand James Franco), Castaway (for a different flavor of nature), Never Cry Wolf (real wolves!) or the most classic of them all – Jaws –  instead.  Any of the selections below are infinitely better than The Grey.

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