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The Grey

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I like director Joe Carnahan's 2002 movie Narc quite a bit (a like I question with each terrible movie he's released since), so it's good to see that it seems like he's made that that isn't completely dreadful.

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I like director Joe Carnahan's 2002 movie Narc quite a bit (a like I question with each terrible movie he's released since), so it's good to see that it seems like he's made that that isn't completely dreadful.

Ah, this comment calls to mind our back-and-forth in the Smokin' Aces thread. I've enjoyed telling fellow critics who mention The Grey to me that I enjoyed Smokin' Aces, then watching their reactions to my comment.

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I'm starting to hear some surprisingly good things about this film, but A&F is silent on Day 2. Anybody here see it? Is it much more substantial than the trailers made it look? (That's what I'm hearing.)

It's good. The trailers make it look like that Anthony Hopkins/Alec Baldwin movie The Edge, but it's nothing like that. There's a lot of stuff about fathers and children and the silence of God. Some of Liam Neeson's cohorts are "ex-con" stereotypes at first, but then those stereotypes are shattered as the movie progresses.

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It's good. The trailers make it look like that Anthony Hopkins/Alec Baldwin movie The Edge, but it's nothing like that.

Oh, the David Mamet-penned The Edge? (Which, despite the fact that I own it, I still can't decide whether it's an OK-but-clever film, or just mediocre.)

Edited by Jason Panella

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It's good. The trailers make it look like that Anthony Hopkins/Alec Baldwin movie The Edge, but it's nothing like that.

Oh, the David Mamet-penned The Edge? (Which, despite the fact that I own it, I still can't decide whether it's an OK-but-clever film, or just mediocre.)

Yes, that movie, as I remember it, is a man-vs.-nature, overcoming the odds type film. In The Grey, we see Liam Neeson with a gun in his mouth contemplating suicide within the first five minutes. And it only gets darker after that.

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Stay until after the closing credits on this one. The final shot works well as an ending in itself--despite being ambiguous--but the FINAL final shot allows the ambiguity to remain while offering a bit of hope in a fairly grim film. This film is better than you might expect (if what you expect is Taken with wolves).

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McCracken:

... the first truly great 2012 release.

...

The Grey has its mind on God, or at least His imprint on it. What gives humans the grace to die well? What is it really that separates us from animals and makes us, for example, willing to appreciate a handshake, a memory, and a mountain vista in our final moments of life? The image of God which we bear. It sets us apart. It is the light that gives reprieve from the “only the strong survive” darkness. It is the light which, in clashing with the dark, creates the grey.

Edited by Overstreet

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There is no hope in this film, in the final shot or elsewhere. There is grace, perhaps, but hope, no.

Bottom line: Shortly before stumbling into the wolves' "den" and gearing up for his final battle with the alpha, Ottay is swept away in a frigid river and soaked to the skin. Since it's evidently near or below freezing (snow on the ground, no sign of melting in progress), and Ottway has no way of drying out or warming up, in a quarter of an hour he'll be dead. Period. Even if he survives his battle with the alpha, it's his final act. And given what the movie tells us about the significance of the "den" to the wolves, the rest of the pack would tear him apart. Of course, the whole "den" busines is nonsense anyway.

My review.

The Grey is a thoughtful, tough-minded little tale of survival and attrition that sets its sights a bit further than its firepower takes it. Its assets include a sweeping Alaskan canvas as breathtaking as it is punishing, a consciousness of mortality and meaning rare in an action film, an uncompromising story-arc—and, crucially, the haggard face and haunted eyes of Liam Neeson, who balances indomitable toughness and brittle brokenness better than perhaps any other Hollywood star today...

Its liabilities include some plodding dialogue and lapses in plausibility at times bordering on the perverse, particularly with regard to an almost mystical wolf pack dogging the ragtag band of humans stranded in their territory by a plane crash in a blizzard. One of the characters wonders, in a quiet moment, whether the odds against their having survived against such odds suggests that they were “meant” to live. By the climactic scene’s ironic twist, it’s hard to avoid the impression that the universe has been toying with them and was out to get them from the start...

The circumstances are dire. Perhaps too dire. The wolves are not only extraordinarily large and powerful and ferocious, but uncannily cunning as well. In one sequence the remaining humans go to astonishing lengths to move on from the wolves’ territory—but as soon as one of them missteps, the wolves are right there to pick him off. For the record, a review of the film at the International Wolf Center blog calls The Grey a “monster movie,” adding that it’s about “as accurate a portrayal of wolf behavior as King Kong was about gorillas.”...

The idea of a wolf pack deep in the wild harrying a group of several able-bodied men and picking them off one by one is unrealistic, though the movie’s biggest gaffe is the conceit of “the den” as a sort of established home base for the entire pack, littered with the carcasses of past kills. In reality, a den is a temporary home for birthing mothers in the spring...

Can we accept those conceits for the sake of the movie? After all, King Kong is generally considered a pretty good flick. Well, yes and no. King Kong is overtly escapist fantasy, while The Grey seeks to be a grimly realistic survival movie. I appreciate that unlike last winter’s nihilistic tale of attrition, the execrable Sanctum, The Grey doesn’t cheapen life and death, and shows some interest in the big questions. But stacking the deck too improbably against the survivors is as damaging to suspension of disbelief as benevolent coincidences ushering a happy ending...

It is possible to discern a ray of grace in the darkness that surrounds Ottway. Like the real world, the world of The Grey doesn’t oblige us either to acknowledge God or to deny Him. If we choose, we can hear His voice speaking a word of reassurance. If we don’t, the movie doesn’t press the point. In the end, though, it’s on this world that The Grey has its eyes.

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SDG wrote:

: There is no hope in this film, in the final shot or elsewhere.

Do you mean the FINAL final shot, or just the final shot before the credits?

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: There is no hope in this film, in the final shot or elsewhere.

Do you mean the FINAL final shot, or just the final shot before the credits?

I mean that nothing that follows the event described in the spoilered text above, either the final shot or the final-final shot, changes what I described above. Ottway is dead. Period.

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Some spoilers here if you haven't seen The Grey.

A little late, but here are my initial thoughts on the film:

One of The Grey’s most significant problems is a predictability that seems governed by life’s supposed ontic cruelty. Not only is it almost certain that Neeson’s character is going to be the last one remaining, but the others’ deaths are sometimes laughably predictable, the only source of light in what is often an assaultingly grim experience. At what seems like the film’s climactic moment of anguish, Ottway, all alone in the Alaskan wilderness now, cries out to God for help in a profanity-laced tirade. Yelling at the sky, he calls God “fraudulent” and pleads “show me something real!” When there’s no answer in the way that he’s demanded, Ottway, in what is pitched as a heroic moment, states that he’ll do it himself.

Ottway is in the middle of the wolves’ den, and he alone must fight against a god seemingly identified with a heartless nature. Having saved the wallets for the families of the deceased, Ottway takes a tragic look at the familial mementos that fill each of the wallets. On the film’s terms, all that we have to cherish in this world is each other: if we lose our loved ones, then all is lost. And since we will lose them, then emptiness — nothingness — is our fate. All that remains is striving to survive.

What a shame that these wallets don’t function to reassure Ottway in some small but powerful way — a shame that his fears were not assuaged by the truth of humanity’s desire for home in the fullest sense. Perhaps the significance of the wallets’ contents could better clarify the seemingly gray fog of God’s transcendence and humanity’s existence than a relentless pack of wolves in the dead of an Alaskan blizzard. Faith being belief in the evidence of things unseen, these wallets — along with Ottway’s persevering commitment to help his comrades survive, and even the film’s serious treatment of death — pose quite a formidable case for something at the heart of existence that is less dire than man versus wild.

Edited by Nicholas

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Just read through your review, SDG. "Stacking the deck against the survivors" is precisely the problem I had (well, one of them).

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Just read through your review, SDG. "Stacking the deck against the survivors" is precisely the problem I had (well, one of them).

Yep, I agree with your comments above pretty much beat for beat.

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Just read through your review, SDG. "Stacking the deck against the survivors" is precisely the problem I had (well, one of them).

I liked this film quite a bit, but I had a negative reaction in the opposite direction. I don't think the deck was stacked ENOUGH against the survivors. The only real peril comes from the cartoonish wolves. The frigid temperatures, hunger and thirst never seem to be real issues for these guys as they stumble about in the wilderness. As SDG notes, Neeson's character falls in an icy river. Yes, in real life he'd be dead within an hour. But I don't think the movie even bothers with that detail. In the next scene, he looks dry and ready to rumble with the big bad wolf. There's nothing to suggest that Neeson's character was in danger of succumbing to the cold. It's all about the wolves, baby.

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I liked this film quite a bit, but I had a negative reaction in the opposite direction. I don't think the deck was stacked ENOUGH against the survivors.

I don't think this is a contradiction, actually. The circumstances themselves are perversely inhospitable, but the survivors are allowed to be ridiculously hard to kill.

It's all about the wolves, baby.

True.

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The only thing I'm curious about is whether the film wants to be about the relentless and dispassionate march of death. The film played around with a few stereotypes--the jokey guy did not

make it very long, there were no survivors, no one betrayed the group

. But on the whole, its a story obsessed with death and the silence of God in the midst of it. I very much wonder if the short story it was based on (I think the author co-wrote the screenplay with Carnahan, not that that means too much) had such an obsession. I also wonder if its about cancer, and if the author had lost someone to the disease. Kinda depressing--for a Friday night kick back at home viewing, I wish it was more like Taken with Wolves.

Edited by Buckeye Jones

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The Grey is basically the series finale of Angel, but with wolves and snow instead of demons and Los Angeles. (Especially the endings.) Which means I liked it. A lot.

The philosophy/theology laced throughout was fun, and more thoughtful than I was expecting, even though I had already heard it was there. I'd agree there's no way Ottway makes it out alive, but I don't think that's really the question of the movie by the time you get to the end.

The reveal that Ottway's wife is already dead suggests that holding on to life has been his problem all along; she's waiting to welcome him and be reunited, and she doesn't want him to be scared about the "journey." This is morally problematic, of course, because it suggests he really should have committed suicide the night before the plane took off, but I think it's consistent as far as what the movie is about and what it's trying to say (that death isn't necessarily the worst thing).

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Just gonna stick this here:

A great video interview with Joe Carnahan.

I'm not sure I'm learning anything extraordinary about Carnahan or his films from this interview, but it's cool to listen to two filmmakers bat it back and forth.

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This had perhaps the best prayer on film in 2012.

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I was really surprised by it--I didn't expect The Grey to pay so much attention to the question of God's presence or absence, His silence or quiet. I expected Taken with Wolves.

It was an uncomfortable prayer, and I couldn't tell whether I was being spoonfed an agnostic trope or if I were watching a legit protrayal of a man coming to terms with his anger with God for his wife's death and the lack of help throughout his last few hours. The poem and the grand "I'll do it myself" theme leads me to some kind of bitter irony. Ottway couldn't do all that much by himself--all his choices lead to ruin.

I'm not giving it enough credit--it's a richer film than that.

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