There's something to be said for a good old-fashioned man vs. nature survival movie.
"The Grey" has all the trappings to be just that — plus a crackling good Liam Neeson — but it gets lost in the snow and wanders off the path somewhere along the way.
Written and directed by Joe Carnahan ("The A-Team"), "The Grey" tries to mix what it does best — violence and male bonding — with a dose of heavy philosophy. The result is uneven and unsatisfying.
Neeson stars as Ottway, a suicidally depressed man whose job, ironically, is to shoot wolves that might endanger oil-rig workers in Alaska.
When Ottway and his co-workers crash-land in a stretch of frozen wilderness, however, a band of oddly persistent and oversized wolves turn the tables.
Neeson is believably grim and resilient in the face of peril. He regularly slips into comforting dreams and flashbacks of his wife, and leans meaningfully on the words of a really awful poem written by his father, but he quite naturally becomes the leader of the small group of survivors.
Frank Grillo ("Warrior") has some memorable moments as Diaz, the ex-con troublemaker of the group, but the rest of the survivors are generic survival-movie archetypes. They wander around; talk about life, God and the universe; and sometimes get eaten. Then the film moves on.
"The Grey" is stark and moody and has some extremely effective scenes. Almost every one of its death scenes is telegraphed beforehand, though, and it grows tedious by the end.
The end itself will likely spark the most discussion, and be warned that it won't please a significant portion of the audience.
An on-the-edge Neeson fighting for his life is a great starting point, but "The Grey" would have been better off staying simple and cutting the pretense.
Rental recommendation: No ice, snow or wolves, but the original Jimmy Stewart "Flight of the Phoenix" is a classic survival tale. Grade: A
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