The aspects surrounding the wolves isn’t a complete wash, but it is nowhere near as interesting as watching this group of guys try and survive and stare death in the face. There are a couple of cool beats with the wolves squaring off against our group of survivors, but it is all kind of silly. A couple of those moments probably warrant the wolves’ inclusion in the story, but I still think the better movie doesn’t have wolves in it. It’s no coincidence that the movie began to resonate once the wolf stuff was pushed to the background and when the group has been reduced down to four is when things really take it up a notch.
Carnahan’s film opens with a fantastic voiceover sequence that does a great job setting up our hero, Ottway (played by Liam Nesson), and the setting is also wonderfully realized shot on location north of Vancouver; the movie feels freaking cold. The vistas are beautiful and daunting as Carnahan and team do a wonderful job at making us feel like these guys are truly in the middle of nowhere, making the isolation of these men all the more affective.
There was only one funky shot that stuck out in the film, but it was thankfully in the best scene of the movie, it’s still a shame they had to use that shot on a number of occasions.
The shot in question seemed to be an effect shot and that is a nice segue to the shaky effects in general throughout the film. A couple bad wolf shots take you out of the picture from time to time, and when used to show the sheer number of wolves it is almost too hokey. Some of the shots look solid, but overall the effects were average at best. The average effects work disappears with the wolves when the film takes off and focuses on just the men and again I think this is no coincidence that the film excels once the effects are out of the picture. The effects work in the plane crash sequence was top notch though, it looked great and I wished it was longer. Disappointingly, they did cop out on the end of the crash which was poor form and felt like a short changing of the audience.
The reason the film takes so long to get to its greatness is that there is a lot of stereotypes, bad dialogue and clichés to get through before the characters we can actually relate to get a chance to shine. The characters that get all of the attention at the start are annoying and unbearable to be around and I am happy they are dispatched rather quickly. Especially played against Nesson’s calm and stoic nature, a few of these guys couldn’t have been more grating. The characters we relate with and can connect with are played by Nesson, Dermot Mulroney, and Dallas Roberts. Mulroney is unrecognizable for half the film and it’s nice to see Roberts get a boost after his great work on the criminally canceled Rubicon.
When we get down to the last few survivors the film really opens as a character piece and the movie is all the better for it. On the verge of death I would imagine these guys would get as introspective as they do and these moments are so interesting that I even began to like the character I might have disliked the most in the beginning, Diaz. Frank Grillo plays Diaz and he deserves some credit for turning a stereotypical embarrassment of a character into someone we care about as our guys’ race for survival. He has a particularly great moment on a log that shows just how much hell these guys have to go through.
Carnahan seemed to flip a switch and gets a lot more reserved in the film’s second half and I wish he would have carried that tone throughout the film as it works so much better than what he started with. We don’t need to see the parallels of Nesson to the Alpha wolf, or his extensive wolf knowledge to be engaged; he had the characters that could do that on their own.
The Grey could have been a great movie, sadly its only half of one. A couple great characters and a solid lead turn by Liam Nesson and his supporting cast make the film very engaging by the end. Carnahan might take some time to get to the good stuff, but he created a world that engaged even if you hated the characters in it. When The Grey gets good, it is pretty darn good, I just wish those wolves would have gotten out of the way and let Carnahan explore his characters more.
The Grey is a B