“In about five seconds I’m going to be kickin’ the shit out of you, and you’re going to be swallowing a lot of blood just for a billfold.”  ~ Liam Neeson in The Grey

The first Alpha male movie of 2012, and holy crap, it’s fantastic.  It’s rare a movie comes along and accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do and hits all the notes just right.  This movie really effected me at a deep emotional level, and for a guy like me, that’s saying a lot.  I mean, a lot.  The Grey isn’t perfect.  No movie is.  But damn, it’s awfully close.

Too many guy movies are about what’s worth dying for.  The Grey is opposite.  It’s about life, how beautiful life is, and how life is something you should fight for.

The Grey is made by Joe Carnahan, the guy who also wrote and directed Smokin’ Aces, a fantastically creative, colorful and underrated action movie that’s one of my favorites.  If you haven’t seen Smokin’ Aces yet, you need to stream that shit right now and watch it.  I expected The Grey to be a rich, high-dialog action movie similar to Smokin’ Aces.  Boy, was I wrong.  It’s nothing like that at all.  It stars Liam Neeson who also stars in another of my favorite movies, Taken.

Given all of that I expected to like The Grey…but not as much as I did.  Wow.

If you don’t already know, The Grey is about a small group of Alaskan oil workers who survive a plane crash in the snowy wilderness, where they must fight off the weather, each other, and the scariest wolves you’ve ever seen. These guys are not the smooth, intelligent, cool Alpha males of Smokin’ Aces.  Instead, these guys are low-intelligence, uneducated, violent, simple, blue collar workers.  These are men who live a hard life with only time with their kids and sex with hookers to look forward to.  It’s amazing to me director and the actors were able to make these guys so compelling.  The characters are rich and varied, while still remaining true to who they are.

The Grey is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time.

As always I’ll do my best to keep this as spoiler-free as I can, but just to warn you there are one or two minor spoilers below.

What I Liked

I liked a lot.  I’ll try to keep this list short but I will probably fail.

  • I cannot remember the last time a movie used sound so effectively.  It’s hard to explain.  If you go see this movie in the theaters, you’ll see (or rather, hear) what I mean.  It was extremely effective.  The movie a good two hours and there’s almost no music…it’s all the sound of the world, the wolves, and the men.
  • The wolves are awesome.  They’re scary but not over the top and not cheesy.  Best of all, the wolves are not CGI. They used real wolves and animatronics.  I’m not a CGI-hater (I loved the first Transformers movie) but sometimes real things just look better, and this is one of them.  The effect is spectacular.  There’s one scene where the guys have to face down the Alpha wolf, and the wolf is played so perfectly, I just had to smile.  There’s another scene were the wolves actually challenge their leader Alpha, and he…well let’s just say he takes care of business.  The way the director demonstrates this is very creative and effective, and another example of how well this movie uses sound to tell a story.
  • The nicest guy in the group dies in the worst possible way, by far.  It was unexpected and a nice twist.
  • At one point, in utter despair, Liam looks up at God and starts screaming at him, insulting him, asking him for help.  When nothing happens, Liam quietly grumbles, “Aw fuck it I’ll do it myself,” and keeps right on pushing onward.  The movie is chalk-full of Alpha character moments like this.   It’s just awesome.
  • I don’t want to spoil anything, so I have to be vague.  The main character is an Alpha, but has a very beta trait that bothered me.  However!  At the very end of the movie, you find it wasn’t beta at all.  It’s another plot twist, and it was marvelous the way they didn’t actually tell you, you had to put two and two together.  It redeemed the strength of the character making me very pleased.
  • There’s a scene where they guys are sitting around a campfire talking about life and death.  Some guys are religious and believe in heaven, but others are atheists and don’t believe in an afterlife.  As I have found in real life, it’s the atheists who adamantly want to LIVE, and the guys who believe in heaven are not too worried about it.  I can relate.  Although I’m not a full-on atheist, I don’t believe in an afterlife (or at least one with any real meaning) and so my greatest goal in life is to LIVE, to live a passionate, exciting, wonderful life full of meaning, and to live for as long as I possibly can.  This was one of the many scenes in this movie that really hit home with me.
  • There’s a GREAT scene that demonstrates outcome independence.  One of the guys starts bitching and acting tough.  Liam says “Hey.  You’re just scared.  That’s okay.  I’m terrified.”  Liam is outcome independent and therefore doesn’t give a shit if other people know he’s scared.  The other guy is also an Alpha, but very outcome dependent, so he’s the typical needy small-man toughguy who doesn’t want anyone to know he’s scared shitless, which is why he’s being an asshole.  So he just double-downs on the “Hey man I aint fuckin’ scared” stuff, and the conflict progresses.  The confrontation between the two types of Alpha male was marvelous to watch.
  • There are no women in this movie.  This is almost never done in Hollywood, and any movie that does this really has some balls.  Hell, even the last Predator movie had a chick in it.  I can only imagine how hard the makers of this film had to push through all the bullshit Hollywood political correctness in order to get his film made.  I’m glad they did.  Though women can enjoy this movie, this a 100% guy movie, made for men.
  • It was interesting that all the men in the movie (except for two) find their children as their reasons to live.  Not some girlfriend back home, not a wife, not their parents, none of that stuff.  It was their kids they wanted to live for.  As a father it was yet another point of commonality with me.  It was very poignant.  The only two guys who didn’t care about kids were the only two who didn’t have any.  Funny side point: one of those two guys wanted to live because he “just wanted to fuck one more time”.  Another fantastic reason to live I completely agree with, and I’m being very serious.
  • The cinematography of the movie is breathtaking, but this is probably because I live and grew up in the pacific northwest where towering mountains and vast forests are sights I’m used to and hold a lot of meaning for me. At one point, one of the guys is ready to die, and he laments about his simple life of boring work and getting drunk, then looks over the water, the forests, the distant now-capped mountains and says “Just look at this.  I feel like this is all for me.”  Another one of those emotional moments.  I relate to that in so many ways.
  • The ending.  It’s magnificent.  Very un-Hollywood.  Lots of people will hate it I’m sure.  They’re missing the point. After the unusual ending I sat for a very long time watching the credits roll.  The movie had that big of an effect on me.

What I Did Not Like

I loved The Grey as you can probably tell,  but no movie is perfect.  It is Hollywood, after all.

  • Number one, top of the list, The Grey follows the same stupid cliche Hollywood formula of a small group of people who die one at a time throughout the movie, leaving one or two people left at the end.  God damn I hate that!  It really pissed me off, primarily because I loved the rest of the movie so much.  If they had just avoided that cliche, The Grey could very well be one of the few perfect movies in history.  But alas, no, the power of Hollywood formula is just too strong.  Just one fucking time, wouldn’t it be cool to see a movie where a small group of people are in a terrible situation, one or two of them die, and the rest survive?  Or even better!  Have a movie where halfway in, after you’ve gotten to relate to all the characters, ALL OF THEM die in one sudden, unexpected event.  One dude lives, and the next 45 minutes is just about him.  See?  That would be cool.  I’ll call Steven Spielberg right now.
  • The movie has one or two jump moments.  You know, when everything is quiet and BAM!  Something loud happens that make all the women in the audience scream into their popcorn.  I have no problem with jump moments as long as they make sense.  There are one or two jump moments in this movie that don’t make any fucking sense at all and are done just for a cheap scare.  After watching this movie you’ll come away thinking that wolves have a stealth mode and can move as quietly as a ninja.  I call bullshit.  Wolves aren’t that quiet and sneaky.
  • Minor complaint.  I don’t quite like how in every movie or TV show featuring a plane crash the camera cuts away from the actual crash, and some of the characters just suddenly “wake up”, conveniently laying on their backs, safe, largely unharmed, and far away from the exploding plane.  How the fuck did these people fall out of the sky and land unharmed like that?  The classic example was in the TV show Lost, but at least in Lost there was a supernatural explanation.  Movies like this have no excuse, other than to keep the main characters alive for plot reasons.  Oh well.

Guess what?  That’s really it.  Those are the only three things I could find wrong with this movie, and two of them are pretty minor.

If you’re a man, you need to see The Grey.

One thought on “Movie Review: The Grey

  1. Caleb:

    An excellent review of a powerful movie. One of my all-time favorites.

    To me it seemed the men had entered a sort of Purgatory where they had to come to terms with their lives, and with each other, before death took them.

    Needless to say, my wife didn’t get it. Definitely a guy movie. I’ll be watching it with my sons when they’re a bit older.

    Just discovered your blog — a gold mine of insight and perspective. Thanks.

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