The Grey – Dir. Joe Carnahan
By John Holden
There are many things to be learned from the films of Liam Neeson. As Oskar Schindler he taught us that we must not, under any circumstances, kill Jews, be it en-masse or otherwise; in ‘Love Actually’, he taught us how to love, in a heart-warming portrayal of a widowed father and in ‘Taken’, we learned that, no matter how tempting it may be, if you kidnap and sell his daughter into sex slavery, he will find you and he will kill you. These are all undeniably important lessons and in his new blockbuster, ‘The Grey’, Neeson returns with his comforting Irish growl to give us a lesson in basic, primal humanity.
It seems that the older he gets, the more of a hard-man Neeson becomes and it would be easy to see the trailers for ‘The Grey’ and pass it off as yet another soulless testosterone-fest. In fact, it is only 90 seconds until we see a man having his head smashed through a table – a scene all too familiar in 2008’s ‘Taken’ – and are left expecting two hours of the same. However, this soon appears not to be the case, as we are plunged into what I would imagine to be a horrifically realistic plane crash, where, rather than focusing on gratuitous violence or explicit gore, the attention switches to the humanity and the very fundamental experience of dying. This is a theme which continues throughout, despite the basically simple premise, and ironically adds life to what would otherwise be quite a hollow film. The idea of human beings as animals is taken to a most basic level, as man and beast are pitted against one another: pack versus pack, alpha versus alpha.
Neeson fits the role perfectly, as the rugged tortured soul leading his band of criminals and rejects in their battle for survival. Often, the lines between man and beast become blurred, with the primal nature of their situation leading to a raw exposure of the human condition and the will to survive. The inevitable deaths are magnified and explored to a sometimes genuinely moving level, with director Joe Carnahan clearly interested in the idea of ‘passing over’ and the grim reality of human expiration. This is slightly let down by a supporting cast which, although act perfectly ably, lack any real depth of character, at least until the final five minutes. That said of character does seem somewhat irrelevant in the face of man on wolf, hand-to-paw combat.
Anybody who has seen ‘Taken’ will approach this film with a certain set of expectations and they will not be disappointed, as there is plenty of manly grunting, beards and beating of chests. What sets it apart and raises it to another level is an extra dimension of emotional depth and a reminder that, although Neeson does seem to be becoming some kind of Chuck Norris type figure, unlike his omnipotent, bearded counterpart, he can actually act. Whilst hardly uplifting, or particularly mentally taxing, it is a thrilling, thoroughly enjoyable ride which should go a long way towards cementing Liam Neeson’s position as Hollywood’s go-to alpha-male.