Thursday, June 28, 2012

Live And Die On This Grey

Like just about anyone with an email address, I get a healthy dose of spam messages advertising products that will make my non-existent penis grow multiple inches. After watching Liam Neeson craft a makeshift pair of brass knuckles out of mini-liquor bottles in order to wrestle an entire pack of man-eating wolves in the arctic wilderness, I think I can safely declare non-FDA approved pills and air pump-like apparatuses unnecessary.

Now I’m no expert, but let me give you this piece of advice: if you want your penis to grow, just watch The Grey.

Quick Plot: Our stoic soon-to-be hero Ottway (Neeson) is just finishing up a job with a petroleum company located in the snowy emptiness of northern Alaska. It’s the kind of mission designed for, in his words, “ex-cons, fugitives, and assholes,” aka men unfit for the civil constraints of organized society.

Ottway himself is quiet and clearly deeply scarred. After an unhappy beer, he samples a taste of his rifle, clearly contemplating suicide following the end of his marriage (for reasons we’ll learn later). Instead, he writes an impassioned note and boards the plane home with his all-male team.

As you know from the trailers, the plane goes down in the remote arctic. Ottway emerges immediately as a leader, the only man seemingly fit for the job of telling it like it is to his doomed brethren.

Oh yeah, and wrestling mothah f’cking WOLVES.

26 minutes in, the real battle begins as our quickly shrinking group battles the elements, their tempers, and…you know, mothah f’cking wolves. Throughout the journey, director Joe Carnahan (working with a script by him and short story writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers) finds a fairly brilliant balance in the wider imagery of the untouched tundra and the small, imperfect lives of these few survivors. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength lies in both its dialogue and occasional lack thereof; when relaxed by a campfire, the men can dabble in crass humor or throw out a personal detail to stay sane, but will equally spend long stretches without saying a word. It works.

There’s also an incredibly sly amount of depth to what goes on in The Grey, and while I may be overthinking some of it, I honestly don’t know that I truly ‘got’ all of its meaning. On one hand, this is a movie about Liam Neeson and a few dudes fighting wolves. On the other, there’s so much—both spoken and unspoken—floating around the snowy air. Over its fairly brief runtime, Jeffers and Carnahan’s script flirts with the existence of God, the definition of an alpha, and what it means to want to live or die. While I’m sure the juggernaut theatrical success will lead to more movies exploring similar territory, I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future, The Grey becomes the kind of film analyzed and dissected in film classes and scholarly work.

And not just because all film critics want bigger penises.

High Points
Post-crash, there is an absolutely outstanding scene wherein Ottway surveys a mortally injured passenger and tells him so plainly, “You are going to die.” It sounds cruel of course, but it’s actually deeply moving as Ottway helps bring the unlucky young man to a peaceful end. As his fellow strandees watch with shock, sadness, and respect, we see with them the easy acknowledgement that this is the man—Neeson and Ottway—that we now need to follow. It’s a brilliant way to establish character while lending so much stoic emotion

Man that musical score is good

Low Points
Perhaps I would’ve preferred a little more character stuff BEFORE the crash so as to give us some form of loss. While the last few survivors do emerge as compelling characters, there are a lot of bodies that never seem to mean anything 

Stray Observation
It’s kind of shocking how similar in many ways The Grey is to another great genre film, The Descent. Obviously, the boiled-down premise (people entering no-people land and fighting it out with the natives) but even more specifics:
-Both feature a cast composed primarily of one gender

-Both are set in remote locations

-Both involve characters seeing the specters of their children before death or battle

-Both feature a major character mourning the death of a loved one

-Both have monsters that eat them

-Ottway’s mantra “Live and die on this day” calls to mind Juno’s necklace etched with “Love each day”

-Both kick ass

Lessons Learned
In a way, The Grey almost teaches us nothing. What, don’t fly over the chilly wilderness because wolves will eat you? Don’t do nothing when confronted by a wolf ‘cause it will eat you? Don’t fight a wolf unless you’re Liam Neeson because it’s a wolf and is therefore stronger than you unless you’re Liam Neeson? Seriously The Grey, I love you, but after watching you, I’m fairly certain in my assumption that if I ever end up stranded alone in the arctic circle, the sooner I develop hypoxia and freeze to death, the happier I’ll be 

Lessons Learned For the Film Industry
Hey big name production companies: see how good and successful a movie can be when it’s about people who aren’t necessarily 22 and gorgeous? Just sayin’

The Grey is an incredibly refreshing mainstream hit of a film, one that understands that audiences can be fully satisfied watching real-seeming men in a horrific situation. The photography is gorgeous, the performances, top-notch, and the entire vibe, wonderfully manly. Liam Neeson is fast becoming one of cinema’s fine wines, only a fine Chianti that not only gets better with age, but one that also can kick your ass with an AARP card. The DVD includes a commentary track, and due to its rewatchability, I would easily recommend a blind buy at the right price. Especially if you want a bigger penis. 


  1. Here's hoping that Taken 2 is good, and not just a carbon copy of the first movie. The trailer isn't too hopeful though, since at some parts, I actually thought that it was a fake trailer made from footage from the first movie! haha!

  2. You know, I still haven't seen the first Taken. What kind of obsessive Liam Neeson drooler am I?

  3. I really liked The Grey too, it reminded me of a favorite of mine: The Edge (but of course that one had a giant Kodiak bear, but the 'stuck out in the wilderness after a plane crash' element was the same).
    I loved the ending - thought it was perfect. And I also liked the part when he gently helped his friend through his own death, it was poignant and lovely.
    But those wolves - scared the hell out of me!

  4. The way I interpret the film *spoiler alert* is that all of the men did have a reason for living. If you recall, Neeson's narration at the beginning mentions the feeling that these were all lost souls, society's outcasts. At the end, when he's thumbing through wallets, he realizes that these men have more to live for than what he initially thought.

    That and the implication that there is no god or higher power as he shouts at the sky at the end.

    Overall, I thought it was a brilliant film.

  5. You mentioned the themes running in the film, but for me, this is where I got back on board with Liam Neeson again. Ever since his wife died, he just seemed to be taking paycheck jobs. But I think this was a bit of a cathartic project for him to act in. Think about all the dream sequences involving his wife, and then the isolation and pain he's going through in the wilderness. It's pretty moving when you look at it that way.

  6. Christine: I've yet to see The Edge, but since it keeps coming up next to The Grey, I'm going to have to. Definitely sounds like a good companion piece!

    Cortez: Definitely an interesting thought. I look forward to rewatching with that in mind.

    Sir Phobos: I can totally see that point. It's impossible not to think about Natasha Richardson during the wife scenes, and the very spirit of this man alone with (maybe) nothing to live for certainly calls that all to mind. I can't imagine this was an easy film for anyone to make, but the end result is such a sad, beautiful, scary, and deep film that I think will stay around for a long time.

  7. I loved The Grey, too and for all the same reasons as you mentioned. I actually had no interest in the film based on the slightly deceiving trailers, but I did hear someone say that it was filled with a lot of poignant introspection which certainly piqued my interest. Also, a normal person I know said it was "sooo stoopid," so I figured that it would be good because most normal people have awful taste in movies.

  8. Normal people suck! We are so superior.

  9. Nice write-up.

    Enjoyed The Grey immensely. One of the best of 2012. Liam Neeson was excellent and liked that it wasn't about punching wolves. It was a very deep and realistic take on survival.

  10. And the great thing is, it totally COULD have bene about Liam Neeson punching wolves and it still would've been great! An actual depth is just icing on the cake!