Around the time of the release of The Grey, Liam Neeson was at the peak of an action movie phase thanks to the unexpected hit that was Taken (2009), which saw him take on a slew of tough guy roles normally reserved for actors 20-30 years his junior.
Whilst there was no doubt that he pulled it off convincingly, somewhere in between it all he made a movie that was not what it seemed, no thanks to some misleading marketing.
The Grey was billed as Liam Neeson vs. Wolves and actually couldn’t have been further from the basis of the movie. Yes, he does have to face off against wolves, but the story itself is a lot deeper and emotionally driven, in which Neeson actually dons his acting hat and pulls off more than just a man using his ‘fists to do the talking’ performance. In fact, all of the performances in The Grey are quite raw and real.
To put it simply, it’s about men lost in an element that they shouldn’t be in, and do everything they can to survive. After a plane crash that kills most of the crew, a small number of them that live are left to fend for themselves in a frozen wasteland in the middle of Alaska. It’s here they reluctantly band together and try to escape Mother Nature’s wrath. And yes, that includes hungry wolves on their trail.
It is a survival movie with tough men who are in over their heads and it doesn’t let us forget that behind their rough exterior, they are still human and capable of being afraid and forced to cling onto the things they love in order to get home. It’s a film that pulls no punches in its depiction of who gets to live and die. The finale itself can be interpreted for years as to what the outcome could have been, despite a post-credit sequence of events.
One could even compare The Grey to the likes of the classic Burt Reynolds/Jon Voight film, Deliverance (1972), with a similar theme of men trying to survive nature’s elements as well as a physical malevolent presence in the shape of an animal or another human.
Liam Neeson was unfairly overlooked as it’s some of his best work in years and deserved more praise, as did his fellow cast mates. Maybe after his action-man status dies down, The Grey may stand out amongst the herd and be recognised for the type of movie it actually intended to be.
Even if you’ve already seen The Grey upon its release, it may be worth going back and giving it a second try with a fresh and open perspective on what the film is, and intended to be, instead of getting lost in a cheap ploy to sell it to a bigger audience. What you might find is an emotional and sometimes heavy-handed display of what it takes and what we will do to survive, even if we have nothing to live for.