After making something of a critical and stylistic splash in 2002 with his gritty, grubby undercover cop drama Narc, helmer Joe Carnahan dabbled in turn-off-your-brain popcorn territory with the likes of Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team. While neither of those were inherently bad movies (although Smokin’ Aces ran close) it is fair to say that this bleak, wilderness survival-horror yearn demonstrates that his talents lay in percolating a mood and crafting an atmosphere, and that quipping characters shooting guns at each other while shit blows up around them is a waste of his not inconsiderable talents.

Re-teaming with A-Team star Liam Neeson, who is enjoying something of a career renaissance having carved out a niche for himself as the thinking man’s action hero, Carnahan and co-scripter Ian Mackenzie Jeffers have concocted an unbearably tense man vs. nature saga that could be read as a stern examination of the hubris of industrialized society, a treatise on the nature of modern masculinity, or just enjoyed as a brutal and bloody genre picture.

Neeson, whose stoic stillness grounds the entire affair with an essential gravitas, plays John Ottaway, a gruff rifleman charged with protecting an Alaskan drilling station from the savage, local wildlife. One night he walks out into the snow and puts the barrel of his gun into his mouth. A moment’s indecision and the howl of nature make him reconsider. When the plane returning Ottoway and the rest of the station’s crew to civilization goes down in a blizzard, the frightened and ill-prepared survivors must fight the cold, starvation, and a pack of hungry, vicious wolves simply to stay alive.

Carnahan is clearly one of those men who believes that the rise of the new-millennium, metro-sexual, sensitive male is an epidemic that has robbed his gender of something primal, and vital to the true essence of masculinity, and he’s not just talking about being able to change a flat tire in the rain. Listening to one of his characters refer to Werner Herzog’s naturist documentary, Grizzly Man, as “that movie that asshole made about the fag with the bears” it’s clear the director has little but contempt for those who might have forgotten that food does not come from a store and that safety is not a guarantee to be taken for granted.

As far as Carnahan is concerned, any man who truly believes that our mighty accomplishments of art, science, and engineering mark us as a superior species needs a swift claw-swipe to the jugular. The premise is simple, the dialogue sparse, and the characters gruff, thinly drawn and largely expendable. Ambling along at a steady pace, punctuated by brief, brutal encounters with the perusing pack of Canis lupes there emerges a poetic beauty to the carnage, emblematic of a way of life buried to the point of extinction by so-called progress, yet essential to the survival of any species.

While the trailer went to great lengths to sell The Grey as an actioner – the much remarked upon shot of Liam Neeson weaponising the mini-bar implied that he was basically going to box a pack of wolves – it is much more of a mood piece and all the more effective for it. While the sparten nature of the proceedings might give rise to yawns from a few, the terrifying sight of Neeson’s Ottoway, rendered silent to those mere feet away by the swirling maelstrom of ice and brush, inaudibly screaming his lungs out as he futilely attempts to revive a man dead from hypothermia is far more affecting that any fleeting moment of violence that might have served in its place.

Blu-ray Special Features:

This Combo pack release contains both a blu-ray and a regular DVD version of the movie. Also included on the disc are a commentary track with Joe Carnahan and his editors, Roger Barton and Jason Hellman, along with a collection of deleted scenes. Additionally, there is a wealth of mobile-to-go tools and applications, allowing you to explore the movie on different formats across various devices.

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