MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★
Having seen the the trailer I was left rather surprised by just how straight The Grey was played out. It looked like it was going to be Liam Neeson as a superhuman action hero, wrestling wolves in the snow. In reality the story adds a certain amount of coherence and believability to its man versus nature survival story which certainly works to its benefit.
The film begins a bit like Lost in the snow, with a plane crash leaving hunter Ottway (Liam Neeson) and a few surviving colleagues who are part of an oil drilling team marauded in an absolutely desolate and distant, freezing cold abyss, forced to figure out how to survive. We see brief flashbacks of Ottway with his wife who we must assume has passed away, which feels rather forced throughout the film to give the character some emotional resonance to hold on to but the film just about gets away with it. From then on it’s a story of survival for Ottway and the other survivors and it’s often gripping and tense with the climate well used to create a really desperate atmosphere. Perhaps a bit too much focus is placed on the hunter becoming the hunted, with wolf attacks a constant threat which does start to get somewhat tedious.
When leaving the screening I was trying to figure out how the film compared with films containing similar survival tales I’ve seen recently. The first two that came to mind were 127 Hours and The Road, the former which was an incredibly difficult watch but with an intense payoff and the latter which contains one of the most fantastically despondent tones I can recall. What stops The Grey from reaching these same heights is that I can’t imagine it staying with me to nearly the same extent. Whilst the aforementioned films left me emotionally drained for long period afterwards, The Grey doesn’t have nearly the same human resonance. I enjoyed it and it’s perfectly well made but the tone isn’t quite strong enough to make the predicament of the characters quite as engaging.
All the performances are solid and it’s nicely shot even if it never really made me go ‘wow’. It’s a film that could have easily have completely lost its way by venturing too far into the ridiculous so it deserves plaudits for instead choosing to make something rather decent. Certainly better than the title might suggest.
The Grey is out on 27th January in the UK and US. Running time 117 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).
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Review by David Rank