... This is far less an action film and far more a dramatic meditation on life and death...
Coming from Joe Carnahan who wrote and directed the brutally realistic, NARC, and the frenetically awesome, SMOKIN' ACES, THEY GREY revolves around a group of men stranded within the cold innards of a snow-enveloped region after their plane crashes. Wounded and frightened the men band together under the guidance of Ottway (Liam Neeson), a man burdened by sadness and a yearning to meet death. Together, they journey across Alaska's harshest terrain in hopes of discovering civilization once again. However, fate will bludgeon them will all the power it possesses be it frozen creeks, blizzards and even a pack of insatiable wolves.
After the initial forty-five minute mark when nary a moment of genuine action occurred, I began to doubt THE GREY as to what it was actually about. While I waited and waited for some groovy scene of blood-spilling action to dry out my eyes, I finally conceded to the fact I would witness no choreographed duel of swinging knives, broken bones or grue-stained knuckles. Admitting this to myself, I nonetheless found myself utterly compelled to continue watching until the bittersweet end. Even now, I think of THE GREY's messages and its effects on me. Really, this film is equivalent to VALHALLA RISING (without the pretensions) if you crossed it with THE EDGE (without the camp). It's a gradually-paced narrative on men, their hopes and fears, subtle redemption and the acceptance of death. Nearly all of the main protagonists have--or don't have--anything to strive for and must come to terms with that before their four-pawed geist arrives with dripping fangs and lapping tongue. Considering it that way, I can now even relate it to the old Modest Mouse song, "Wild Pack of Family Dogs" which sings about (you guessed it) a pack of dogs which represent a form of death as they make their way from one person to another. I would be lying if I said this movie was happy, as it's actually a very sad and humbling experience. By the movie's end, there are really no villains or heroes, just victims to circ*mstance who either give into their predicament or choose to push on knowing full well that hope is a waking dream. And while the ending gained much controversy, I felt it not only fitting, but an utterly heart-breaking--yet oddly hopeful question mark of a conclusion. The beauty lies in it vagueness. Who wins? Who loses? It doesn't matter. What matters was simply making the choice to fight on despite overwhelming odds.
The only pieces of this pie that left a sour taste were that of some cheap-looking green-screen moments coupled with the fakey use of CGI to create feral wolves; thank God they were used so sparingly (and in the dark at that). And while the subtle score by Marc Streitenfield was moving and delicately cathartic, I did find it disappointing that one of his main songs of his composition was a complete act of plagiarism. The track that plays during the finale is a total rip-off of John Murphy's Adagio in D-minor which he originally crafted for the excellent SUNSHINE. Had the actual song simply been used instead of Streitenfield's attempt at credit-theft, I would have been more lenient. However. . .
I still can't fathom how such a film as THE GREY wasn't hated more at the box office due to such immensely devious marketing of its studio. You have pompous critics and mainstream audiences going into the theater thinking they're about to witness an action flick and depart upset over the fact that it was too slow. You have art-house aficionados angry because there was "too much action" by their vapid standards. And the vast majority of my age group and younger don't have the respect for this kind of mature storytelling. . . So, how did this not rile more feathers? Well, I guess it doesn't matter because the end result was something I could completely get behind; a film which is about its characters, plight and emotion rather than the snippy one-liners, ridiculous set-pieces, star-studded cast and Hollywood ending.