Review: The Grey (2012)

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I nearly had to arm-wrestle Coart into this movie, and he didn’t like it. But I really appreciated Liam Neeson’s The Grey.

Since I teach (did teach) American Lit, I’ve always been fascinated by the social and cultural forces that led to the development of Naturalism (or Determinism) in American culture. Jack London and Stephen Crane serve as poster boys. The credo is simple.  “There is no God. And Nature hates you. Given the chance, she will eat you alive.  Enjoy your day.”

London’s stories are often gripping tales with a lot of adventure and swash, but the gritty core is always there. “To Build a Fire” makes it obvious to most people: Nature doesn’t care about you. If anything, she delights in killing you.  Stephen Crane gave the philosophy an even colder outlook, with his famous “The man said to the Universe, ‘Sir! I exist!” poem. Of course, the Universe doesn’t give a damn.

Naturalism doesn’t really play well to American movie audiences. We like our movies fluffy, for the most part. Good guys win, bad guys lose, and hopefully there’s a great fight scene or giant explosion in there along the way.   The more sophisticated among us crave irony and satire, with allusions or visual metaphors. We appreciate the darker stories, perhaps. But those don’t make big box office bucks. So they tend to remain art films at indie film houses.

So I’m not really sure how The Grey made it into American theaters in broad release. It really is a good film, well-shot and well-acted. Liam Neeson is excellent. He’s the Irish guy you wish you had in your family, because it’d be so FUN to sit around with him on Thanksgiving and drink. Plus, he’s good looking in a 50-something, craggily sort of way.  I love Neeson.

The Grey tells the story of several people struggling to survive the brutality of Alaskan winter and cold after their plane crashes. They’re beset by ravenous wolves who seem much larger than life would normally offer.  I dunno. I’m not a wolf expert. But those were BIG wolves.

Aside from nearly freezing you to death with scenes of wind-lashing blizzards, the movie moves along pretty evenly in relatively predictable ways…. though the ending isn’t really what I’d call “predictable.”  Once you’ve seen it, you’ll say, “Yeah. That’s exactly how it needed to end.”

But through and through, this is Jack London’s story, even though he didn’t write it. Neeson’s character doesn’t believe in faith or God or anything he can’t see.  An empiricist, I suppose. So he has all the hope one might expect of a man in that position.  If you’re up against Nature and there’s no Higher Power to turn the tide, it’s going to be a long night.

I appreciated The Grey for living out a philosophy that many of my students know only from my lectures or assigned readings. I also appreciated its excellent cast, solid characterization, well-written dialogue, occasional moments of humor (very occasional), and thoughtful mien.  Coart didn’t like it…. I didn’t really delve into why, though I’d guess he found it philosophically and narratively predictable.  Our movie mates (Sara and Brett) liked it too, so I can at least claim a majority opinion. 

But if you want to read a snarky British comment, you might enjoy this editorial on Liam’s recent film career:


Disclaimer:  The Grey is rated R for violence and lots and lots of F-words.

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