There seems to be an experiment going on, where filmmakers are taking Liam Neeson and putting him in progressively more stripped down movies to see just how much more is needed to be added to make an incredible movie. If The Grey is any indication, it’s almost nothing.
Neeson plays John Ottway, a man with only a basic sketch of a past, clearly suffering from the absence of his wife, who appears in recurring flashbacks. He provides protection to oil workers in Alaska, hiding out in the woods and shooting wolves before they can attack the workers. After a plane crash coming back from the job, he and seven others end up stranded in the arctic circle and must band together under Ottway’s guidance to survive. Naturally, the group is in conflict with each other, and must find a way to overcome their skepticism in Ottway’s experience as well as the packs of wolves that are hunting them.
The movie is fairly simple overall, featuring a cast listing that is less than two dozen people. The plane crash happens early, and the film ends at a point that makes it clear that it’s completely about Neeson’s character and his persistence in survival despite everything going against him.
Despite the abundance of winter wear and near persistence of snowy weather, Neeson stands out in this film. His lack of any formal history allows his acting to paint the whole picture and you get a fairly decent understanding of the type of person he is and what he’s struggling with, even without any dialog in the brief flashbacks he experiences. We never even learn his wife’s name.
The only real unfortunate thing about this story is that it ends up being more of a vignette than a full story proper. As a character piece, we are only seeing a slice of Ottway’s life and how he deals with an emotional crisis colliding with a external one. The movie is engaging, but treads a little lightly as far as actual progress is concerned. This is a ‘serious film’ after all, so the sort of fun banter you see on buddy survival pics like Flight of the Phoenix, or the Baldin/Hopkins film The Edge that this one takes obvious clues from, doesn’t apply. This is one man’s story that happens to have others that walk beside him.
And for what it is, it works, and I recommend it. But if you’re looking for something beyond a character piece, I urge you to look elsewhere.