Film & Cinema | Cinema Reviews

The Grey: A snowbound survival thriller

The Wright brothers would never have guessed Their invention made possible the aerial disaster movie by which aeroplanes crash in snowy wastes

  • Guardian News and Media Ltd
  • Published: 00:00 February 2, 2012
  • Tabloid

  • Image Credit: AP
  • Liam Neeson

The Wright brothers would never have guessed that a few months after Edwin S Porter's The Great Train Robbery created the western in New Jersey in 1903 they would be providing the conditions for another popular genre by making the first people-carrying powered flight down the coast in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Their invention made possible the aerial disaster movie by which aeroplanes crash in snowy wastes, deserts, jungles and other wildernesses leaving the survivors to struggle to safety.

The Grey, a superior example of the genre, reunites in Alaska the director Joe Carnahan and the star Liam Neeson of the misbegotten A-Team. Leeson plays Ottway, a tough, taciturn, deeply sad Irishman in a remote oilfield full of, according to Ottway's voiceover, "ex-cons, criminals, fugitives and a**holes, people unfit for normal society". He joins a party of rowdy, drunken oil workers on a plane to Anchorage, it crashes in the mountains during a blizzard miles from nowhere, and there are seven survivors.

Ottway, the oldest man and a natural leader, takes command. It transpires that the oil company employed him as a wolf hunter, and he breaks the news to his rough companions that they've stumbled into the territory of a pack of carnivorous timber wolves bent on protecting their turf from intruders. What follows is initially commonplace exciting survival stuff, if a trifle talky, in which the freezing, frightened group alternately bicker and bond. An hour in, the half-time score is "Wolves 2, Oilfield Roustabouts 1".

Then the tone steadily changes, and it's apparent the makers have something more ambitious in mind than a conventional survival thriller moving towards a triumphant ending. This is an existential, God-baiting fable where the wolves are agents of destiny and the isolated protagonists must confront their individual fates, and the effect is as chilling as the weather. The movie is superbly photographed by Masanobu Takayanagi.

— Guardian News and Media Ltd

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