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The Grey

It’s a well-told tale of an enormous blank, white sheet on which several very-dark souls try to say their piece.

The cosmoloogy of this film is explained by the narrator at the very beginning as he writes and reads a letter he’s writing to a loved one who’ll never receive it.  It’s a tale of a handful of evil (lone wolf) men exiled to the frozen north; a tale told by their defective protector, who’s only sure of one thing, that he belongs in the company of discards, omegas and rejects.  His narration is like a suicide note, written in blood, on a rest-stop bathroom mirror by a soulsick guy in transit, who truly belongs exactly nowhere.

And the airplane that’s meant to transport John Ottway (and his similarly-impaired companions) “home”, crashes in the middle of an enormous page of absolute tabula rasa, where the crash, the storm, the cold and the pack of pretty-darned-plausible CGI wolves reduce the size of his company until the film concludes in the final confrontation of Ottway and the alpha wolf in a gentlemanly contest of champions — to which Ottway brings a fistfull of tiny broken bottles, electrical tape, and a woefully-inadequate hunting knife.

This is a story that’s mostly-told.  It’s told very well, within the confines of the mythology it fabricates, leaving Ottway plenty of time to repeatedly consult the suicide letter that reminds the viewer of the warm&loving side of the mirror from which Ottway’s personal choices (and pathological predispositions) divorce him.

But it’s a told tale (and possibly also a tall tale) that felt the usual Hollywood-conventional need of multiple camera angles, inserted music, and a wealth of spoken words to tie the viewer into the precariously-suspended lives and deaths of several men whose almost-constant companions are a pack of enormous wolves who make Ottway & Co. seem profoundly-insignificant snacks in their BigBad (hu)manly badass bravado, by comparison.

I think it would have been a more effective film if it were shot through the eyes of the hometown team, from the points of view of the natural (CGI) predators.  STILL, it is, nonetheless, an effective, engaging, suspenseful adventure that I’m glad Sam turned me on to.

As a NetFlix rental disc, all the special features are completely unavailable, because it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and a movie executive’s got to make a buck somehow (ScottFree and Inferno); disappointing.  When the wolves aren’t at the door, I might actually buy myself a copy of this one.  Easily 80% of the film incorporates effective elements that worked very well in Jaws, The Flight of the Phoenix, ConAir…it’s only in the very last reel that the relentless, ubiquitous menace of The Pack abates for several minutes while the unrepentant “lone wolf” humans focus the viewer’s attention on more important things than their sociopathic survival; like family, relationships, theology and various bits of wholly-unrelated bullshit.

This film reminds me of Joss Whedon’s assessment of Air Force One because I spent 117 minutes watching a character study in which there is no recognizable change in any of the characters.

What do I have to do today to make it a good day to die?  It was an excellent question when it was posed in Little Big Man 42 years ago.  Still is.


Second pass, 09JUL2012:  In 1908, Jack London published To Build A Fire, a short story that built Yukon cold, and newbie hubris into a classic tale of human stupidity witnessed by a dog.  There was no pressing need for wolves.  The Grey probably needed them.

The film doesn’t quite work as a realistic portrait of seven survivors of an Alaskan plane crash because significant details get in the way of a literal reading; Ottway is attacked early, but arterial blood spurting in heart-pulses from his right lower thigh requires only a wrapping bandage to permit instantaneous healing that lets him take the lead in a desperate march from the wreck through the snow to the relative safety of the trees the very next morning.  Later, there will be desperate floundering in a river from which Ottway emerges in dry clothes.  A desperate 30foot leap off a cliff into a treetop with the aid of a tether made of knotted rags, rope and clothes while The Pack waits at the base of the tree for Talget, and not at the edge of the cliff.  Diaz spits blood, as though he might have been more seriously damaged, during his attack, than he let on.  Maybe that’s meant to make his decision to resign from the trek and life more plausible.  I don’t think it did.  Burke just quits breathing.  Henrick drowns.  Hernandez and Flannery pissed them off and straggled.  Wolves just raised the stakes, most of the guys died of their own ignorance.  As would I; not to throw stones.

It doesn’t really work as a fable, either.  The alpha’s eyes are lime-colored.  The charcoal gray of his coat makes an awkward comparison with the deep steely blue of Ottway’s eyes — unless the title of the film pertains to the uncertainty of the survors’ survival; the life&death struggle in a gray area involving Ottway’s belated exhortation for God to prove His existence by intervening in behalf of a suicidal widower whose father once proclaimed the virtue of NOT going gentle into that good night.  No.  That also stinks.  There’s zero uncertainty in my mind concerning Ottway’s survival of the final confrontation with the alpha.  Seven pairs of  outraged, shining eyes glared back at the five remaining crash survivors on the second night.  That Ottway stole all the way home is an ironic tribute to Hollywood bullshit.  That it was the wrong home is actually pretty damned interesting.


07 Jul 12 - Posted by | Uncategorized |


  1. Nice review!

    Comment by Sam | 08 Jul 12 | Reply

    • Thank you! The film leaves an aftertaste of anti-egalitarian, pro-hierarchical propaganda that might have been meant to pre-promote Prometheus.

      “Once more into the fray
      Into the last good fight I’ll ever know
      Live and die on this day
      Live and die on this day”
      “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…”

      Comment by Scott Ellington | 08 Jul 12 | Reply

      • I don’t know if I’d say anti-egalitarian. It seems to be saying that humans are no better than wolves–in fact are less able to function in a pack than wolves are. The parallels between the animals and the survivors are interesting. What I liked is that it traded on a lot of macho cliches, yet it undermines them at the same time.

        (SPOILERS)The fact that Liam Neeson is proved a fool is interesting–he ‘lives,’ or ‘lasts to the end’ (depending on how you interpret the scene after-the-credits scene) because of his skill and purity of heart (it is a Hollywood movie after all), but he’s also led those men to their deaths, and himself into the den. One wonders if he did this on purpose–is the fact that he had a death wish the very REASON that the others listen to him? He seems to be the most at peace with dying, and indeed one of the first scenes of his leadership is him helping an injured man die with a measure of grace.

        Comment by Sam | 08 Jul 12

    • Fair enough. I think it qualifies as a film (rather than a movie) because the final act is played out over pie and coffee after curtain, Shanley-style, in a wealth of conversations. Diaz quits. Ottway’s too dumb to save Henrick from drowning. God becomes an addressable presence just long enough to accomplish nothing, sparking controversy concerning theological implications (like an add-on, editorial ambiguity courtesy of legal counsel more concerned with PETA boycott than coherent entertainment.
      I think the film made excellent sense until the moment after Diaz challenges Ottway’s authority (mirroring Ottway’s lucid interpretation of the Alpha/Beta insurrection in the darkness). I guess that’s the end of the second act.
      Then sense departs and The Other (side of the mirror) grows opaque in its nebulosity. That illegibiliy peaks in the third act when the wolves wander off for several minutes and God becomes The Other and just as enigmatic.
      I closed last night with Contact, which goes to similar xenophobic places (for James Woods’ character, at least) and Walkabout is up next; my feeble memory leads me to believe that human integration in a presumed-hostile environment can be more-interestingly, more-poetically presented than it was in The Grey.
      I think Carnahan/Jeffers cloaked their film in useful ambiguity:
      that worked to the film’s advantage, but probably shouldn’t have.
      I’m looking forward to Prometheus for more data on the resolution of conflict between corporate (secretive and hierarchical) interest and corporate image of orderly magnanimity.

      Comment by Scott Ellington | 08 Jul 12 | Reply

  2. The Crash drops Barack Hussein Ottway into a Humpty Dumpty mess that vaguely resembles the comeupance of Ambersons, the horrors of Valley Forge, the Israeslites’ flight from Egypt, the pivotal battle of Gettysburg, the Siege of Manila, several dark moments in the course of the Viet Nam War, and Ottway’s Last Stand where he dances with wolves and sings an American Tune.

    Yeah, I just might buy myself a copy of this one. I still suspect it’s a flawed, unscientific fairytale, but it isn’t exactly a fairytale about huffing and puffing and eating little pigs or riding hoods, or untoward alarmism. It’s about a few centuries of crapping on Manifest Dignity, incorrectly assuming entitement to turf, and The Right to piss anywhere you damned-well please, including right in the eye/ear/nose/throat of Real, not imaginary (financial, electoral, media) Power.

    After the crash, President Ottway wakes up from the blissfully-ignorant American Nightmare —
    totally fucked.
    After credits, the BigBad wolf is still huffing and puffing. Is Ottway? Does it matter?

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 09 Jul 12 | Reply

    • Speaking of fairy tales, Hanna was another interesting film, deliberately mixing the techno/spy-thriller with fairy tale imagery.

      How’d you do with Luck? As a fellow Milch enthusiast I thought I’d like it more than I did. I got one episode in and put it on indefinite hiatus. Might have to give it another try.

      Comment by Sam | 09 Jul 12 | Reply

      • No luck with Luck nor The Newsroom — I just don’t have access to cable television.
        I pick stuff up on the rebound, but I’ve found that throwing myself into John from Cincinnati (on DVD) is a significant chore.
        I think the ease of slipping into any episode of NYPD Blue says more about us than it does about Big Dave.
        Big Apple is, I think, an invaluable bridge across the gulf of Milch. I can wait for Luck, and I look forward to it.

        Comment by Scott Ellington | 09 Jul 12

  3. All I wanted out of Luck was for Dustin Hoffman to clip his head and end up in a coma, and dream a perfectly lucid and satisfying series finale for Deadwood.

    Comment by Sam | 13 Jul 12 | Reply

    • YES! Clipped by one of the thundering hooves of the riderless icon of unbridled capitalism! The great horse, Cocksucka! YES!

      Comment by Scott Ellington | 13 Jul 12 | Reply

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