Movie Review: The Grey
By Matthew Huntley
February 2, 2012
Where the film really comes alive are in its quiet, somber moments, in which director Joe Carnahan shows a gift for patience and nuance. One of these takes place shortly after Ottway comes to and helps a bleeding passenger back into the plane. The man complains, “I don’t feel right.” Notice how Carnahan holds on this moment and isn’t hasty about jumping to the next scene. He lets it play out until it obtains a greater meaning. Another happens during a long take when one man says, “See all that out there,” referring to the mountain range, “that’s all for me.” Scenes like these create real emotion, reflection and empathy. Our focus changes from how the characters are going to survive to if they’re going to survive. It’s not always obvious.
There are at least half a dozen memorable, taut and affectingly gripping scenes in the film, some as simple as the men trudging in the snow because we know, by this point, how hard and laborious it is just to walk a few feet. The film is that good at putting us in the characters’ shoes. That’s why it would have been a mistake to simply boil things down to an arbitrary stand-off or moment of absolution with a definite conclusion (even though one is suggested after the closing credits). I’ll be the last one to tell you who survives and who doesn’t, but it was refreshing and unexpected not to be able to guess.
Though the film is violent, it is not lavishly bloody or overly grotesque. Carnahan isn’t hell-bent on getting a rise out of us or making us want to cover our eyes. Rather, he wants to invoke in us the same kind of fear and anxiety the characters experience and really put us in their environment. Only then are we able to understand the gravity of their situation. The result is quite effective.
One thing The Grey knows is that when it comes to nature and death, there are no rules. Sure, we may like to think that death, or perhaps God, picks and chooses who it/He takes and that we somehow earn a longer life through good deeds. I’m not here to dispute whether or not that’s true, and the movie doesn’t try to do that, either. It simply argues it doesn’t matter what we’ve survived up until this point because survival, at any given moment, is never certain. As Ottway puts it, we can either “live or die on this day.” The choice can be up to us, but most of the time it’s up to nature and things out of our control.