Directed by Joe Carnahan
Distributed by Universal Home Entertainment
Trailers, man. Sure, when done well, they can be little pieces of art, sometimes better than the movies they’re advertising. But most of the time, they either give WAY too much of a film’s story away, or they sell a film that you don’t actually wind up getting. And I ask you, is there anything worse than a bit of marketing that promises one type of film, when the picture in question is an altogether different beast entirely?
When the trailer for The Grey first appeared, it left me stunned. Here was a film with beautiful photography, a great leading man, and one helluva premise: a plane crash in the middle of a vast, snowy expanse leaves a small group of men alive to survive both the harsh elements and the pack of ravenous wolves on their heels. The trailer was gripping. It was intense. And, with its final moments, jaw-dropping: star Liam Neeson, a great actor who’s recently become a unlikely action star, strapping on a knife and broken mini-bottles to his hands as he prepares to do battle with an alpha wolf. It’s this final image that brought people to theatres, most expecting a Man vs. Wolf action extravaganza. Taken with wolves, as it were. And wow, The Grey is not that movie.
It’s far, far better.
The film opens with a beautiful ten-minute sequence which introduces us to Ottway (Neeson), a hired gun at an Alaskan oil station whose job involves hunting and killing wolves before they can do harm to the station’s workers. Following an aborted suicide attempt, Ottway packs up his gear and catches a plane out with a number of other employees heading home. In short order, we’re introduced to our soon-to-be survivors and get a good feel for their personalities, just before the aforementioned crash.
Stranded, freezing, and hunted by wolves, Ottway and the remaining men travel south on foot in the hopes of finding some sort of salvation. Along the way, the men ruminate about life, death, and faith, providing a kind of depth we rarely see in this type of film (hell, any type of film, these days). Of course, even as we come to know and love these guys, there is plenty of bloodshed and tragedy that tears them away, one by one.
To say anything more would be criminal. I’d love to talk at length about this film, but I refuse to give away anything concerning its final act (even though that might reset some of the expectations brought about by that damned trailer). What I will say is that this is, hands down, my favorite film of the year so far. The Avengers, Chronicle, The Hunger Games, The Cabin in the Woods, and The Woman in Black have all been great, but it’s The Grey that I’ve spent far more time on, recommending it to friends and chatting with fellow viewers over its themes and our favorite moments. It’s beautifully made, perfectly acted (not one performance in this film is anything less than great), and is deeply haunting, with scenes and moments that will stick with you long after the credits have rolled. I give it my highest possible recommendation.
Unfortunately, for such a great film, the bonus features on the Blu-ray are a bit on the paltry side. We get a selection of deleted scenes and an audio commentary with the director and editors. No more, not even that misleading trailer. Given that the film was said to have had such a grueling production, it would have been nice to see some behind-the-scenes footage or hear an actors’ commentary, perhaps. Ah, well.
What we do have is interesting enough, at least for those who adore the film. The deleted scenes are all fascinating, especially the extended campfire sequence and a hilariously misjudged moment featuring a polar bear. The standout, though, is a deleted scene featuring the survivors attempting to light a fire under the coldest and harshest of conditions. The scene is brief, but just you try to sit through it without shivering uncontrollably. Still, as nice as these deletions are to watch, it’s understandable why each one was left on the cutting room floor.
The commentary will certainly be of interest to the film’s enthusiasts. Featuring director Carnahan and his editors, the scotch-fueled talk covers a good deal of ground concerning the film’s production. Especially noteworthy is the use of two editors and how one’s approach led to the film’s fantastic, chronologically-fractured opening sequence. If there’s any problem with the commentary, it’s the amount of self-congratulation going on. Seriously, the level of back patting gets downright douchebaggy at times. Mind you, if I’d made this film, I’d likely be more than a little immodest, too.
Lack of special features aside, the Blu-ray is worth its price for the film alone. And boy, is it ever given a great presentation here. The image is a spot-on perfect representation of the film’s theatrical exhibition, perfectly preserving the gritty, grainy, nearly monochromatic beauty of the movie’s look. It’s strange, how rough the film looks at times while always managing to remain a gorgeously shot picture. The audio, too, is just stunning, with a great range admirably reproducing the most quiet of conversations to the deafening roar of the beasts.
I’d call this film a must-buy, but I do recognize the fact that it may not be for all tastes. Still, if you like your drama with a bit of blood-soaked horror, or your horror with a bit of existentialist drama, then you should, at the very least, find this film worth a look. Or several.
Special Features on Blu-ray and DVD
5 out of 5
2 out of 5