Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Grey

Title: The Grey

What Exactly Is "The Grey?" The movie's title could refer to either the bleak Alaskan weather conditions, the alpha wolf stalking the downed plane's passengers, or the pervasive helplessness felt by one contemplating suicide.

Sounds Cheerful. Put it this way, I wouldn't watch The Grey after a particularly down week. Or before getting on a plane.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three and a half travel bottles of Jack Daniel's out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: After their plane crashes, seven roughnecks must try to avoid being killed by the elements and a pack of rogue wolves.

Tagline: "Live or die on this day."

Better Tagline: "The movie the Alaska Tourist Bureau doesn't want you to see."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: A group of oil workers on their way to Anchorage crash-land in the wilderness. The survivors, led by the sullen Ottway (Liam Neeson), soon discover they've attracted the unwelcome attention of a pack of wolves, and must somehow get out of their territory before they're picked off one by one.

"Critical" Analysis: Writer/director Joe Carnahan finally (mostly) gets away from the goofy, hyperstylized bullshit of his most recent endeavors (The A-Team, Smokin' Aces) and returns to his grittier origins (Narc), delivering a brutal and surprisingly moving film about, of all things, a bunch of oil workers pursued by killer wolves.

Let me preface this by saying I am not anti-wolf. But neither do I believe, as some groups are maintaining, that this particular film paints wolves in a bad light. It's made pretty clear the beasts are reacting to interlopers on their territory and not, in fact, arctic hellhounds bent on eradicating mankind.

Though really, who could blame them?

The Grey is better than a movie released in the January doldrums has any right to be. Its narrative hangs on the barest of bones, yet the flight from the wolves is only part of the story. For unlike most of these movies, Carnahan has actually presented us with halfway realistic characters instead of the usual Tough Guy/Scared Guy/Minority Guy stereotypes. Ottway is plagued with dreams/nightmares about a woman from his past, Hendrick (Dallas Roberts) and Talget (Dermot Mulroney) are both just trying to get back to their families, yet express this in subtly different ways. Even the token asshole Diaz (Frank Grillo) undergoes a believable transformation and wins us back in the end.

I'm mostly going by audience reaction here. I've seen hundreds of horror movies, and a bare handful have elicited distressed audience reactions like when certain folks bite it like The Grey.

Carnahan and company are also shooting for a wider message, which is evident in Ottway's surprising resolve (considering he had a gun in his mouth in the movie's first five minutes) and Diaz's quiet decision to go out on his own terms. In this sense, "the grey" can also be seen to refer to the nothingness each man has to come to grips with. But don't worry, they only toy with existentialism long enough to set up the next scene where a wolf crushes a guy's skull with his jaws.

This combination of minimalism and well-rounded performances makes The Grey worth seeking out. Neeson has played a taciturn badass so many times he should probably get business cards printed up (and never mind the fact the guy is *59* freaking years old), while Roberts, Mulroney and Grillo help turn what could have been Lake Placid on Ice into a pretty groovy little horror movie.

Which isn't to say the movie is flawless. The wolf CGI leaves a lot to be desired, and it's difficult to say what lesson we're supposed to take away from the movie. I mean, if the key to spiritual salvation is doing battle with a bunch of wolves, well, the psychiatric industry's going to take quite a beating (as will Canis lupus). Still, difficult as it was to watch at times, The Grey is a fairly engaging film. As long as your definition of "engaging" includes "seeing guys ripped apart by angry canines."

The Grey is in theaters today. Do yourself a favor and leave the dog at home.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar