Sunday, January 29, 2012

Want to know what I think of: The Grey

Between "Mission Impossible: Ghost Prototype" and "The Grey," I've finally conquered my fear of heights.

Okay, okay, let's get serious.

"The Grey," is the film that "Milo & Otis" wanted to be.

Okay, okay, seriously, let's get on with it...

I was really looking forward to "The Grey" because I always believed "The Edge" would have been better with Liam Neeson.

Okay, okay, guys, let's get serious.

But seriously, if you're afraid of heights, this film will give you panic diarrhea. Just ask the fine folks at the Petaluma Cinema West.

Director Joe Carnahan is one of the smartest filmmakers working today, and if you don't believe me, just watch "The Grey." You'll shut your stupid mouth super fast. But you'll probably be crying, cause this film is emotional. More than "War Horse." Or "One for the Money." In fact, before watching "The Grey," it wouldn't be a bad idea to re-watch "Narc" "Smokin Aces" and especially "The A-Team."

Let me quickly break them down for you:

"Narc" is probably the most accurate depiction of police procedure ever filmed.
"Smokin Aces" is one of the most deranged action films ever made, and I mean that in the best way possible.
"A-Team" is the action film that Shane Black never wrote. If you want an impeccably delivered action flick, this is for you, ranking up there with "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard" in terms of sheer entertainment. If you watched it and just thought it was another run-of-the-mill action film, you weren't paying attention.

So, that brings up to "The Grey." We learn that Liam Neeson's John Ottway is a security sniper for an Alaskan oil rig, killing wolves if they get to close to the men. Awesome. As he describes it, it's a place for "men unfit for civilization." We see him try to commit suicide, but changes his mind at the last minute. You'll ask yourself why he wants to kill himself (at least I did), and the film answers that pretty quickly: his wife is dead. Spoiler. Not really.

Since he's not dead, he boards a plane home, and it's here that Carnahan subtly introduces us to the band of survivors we're about to spend some time with. Because the plane crashes. Spoiler. So, in the middle of nowhere, these men must learn to band together and defend themselves against a pack a wolves and the freezing cold. Hell, there's even time for an "Alive" joke. Right before a man's face gets torn. Indeed, make no mistake, this is a brutal film, one that doesn't pull any punches and never hesitates to shake you to your core. When I say that it doesn't pull any punches, I don't mean that in reference to Neeson fighting wolves as you've no doubt seen prominently in every trailer and tv spot. That is not what this film is about. And if you're buying a ticket hoping for some man-on-beast combat, you're going to be severely disappointed. Yet, despite this fact, the audience was applauding and gasping at every moment, and even in the small town of Petaluma, these people erupted into applause at the end. And tears, I might add. Many people left with red eyes, and it ain't from the drug problem this town has.

The attacks from the wolves are perfectly executed, always unexpected and consistently frightening, yet they're over before you can recover from your anxiety-induced seizure and wonder what the hell just happened. This film isn't apprehensive about dealing with death, both physically and philosophically. There are many discussions about faith, yet they never come across as heavy-handed or preachy. You understand why the characters would say these things; everything in this film is impressively organic. Speaking of characters, this is not a one-man show. Carnahan allows every character to develop, and thankfully every actor steps up and delivers, making this film a rare case where there is not a weak link, the honerable mention being Frank Grillo's Diaz, who is constantly opposing Ottway's authority, someone that would have been grating under any other director, but Carnahan molds a very empathetic character.

Liam Neeson owns this film, though, and "The Grey" may go down as one of the worst studio blunders in film history. Why this wasn't released last month is beyond me. I've been hearing for months that this is one of his finest performances, and all the hype is true. He doesn't just deserve to be nominated, he needs to win that Oscar. Knowing about the death of his wife back in 2009 makes this all the more emotional, understanding that he's drawing from some dark places. A scene where he's talking to a dying man after the place crash is undoubtedly going to be one of the most memorable scenes in 2012, as Neeson infuses the moment with an overwhelming sense of warmth and tenderness, which serves as not only a beautiful character moment but also a pause for the audience to catch their breath after the heart-stopping plane crash, which is one of the most terrifying plane crashes you've ever seen.

This is not a morbidly pessimistic film, even with all the despair that these men encounter. Carnahan faces these issues with supreme confidence, elevating this type of survival film into something that will resonate with you hours, days, even months after you've watched it. When I say that this is filmmaking at its finest, you better believe I'm telling the truth. "The Grey" is so matter of fact about its brilliance that you'll leave wishing all films could be made like this.

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: It's like "The Family Stone," but with wolves.

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