Sunday, January 29, 2012
Reel Low: The Grey 
Typically, mid-January to mid-February is one of those times of the year when movie studios dump their crap on us. The Oscar nominations have already been announced, hence the lack of powerful dramas and arthouse darlings available on screens at the country at large. And it's too soon for blockbuster action flicks because... I don't know... it's too cold outside to eat popcorn?
In other words, Underworld: Awaking is the reigning number one movie in America because it actually was the best of the bunch released last week.
But, in what I hope is a growing trend, the relatively new Open Road Films has released The Grey in this dead zone, ensuring that movie-goers didn't have to wait long at all for something to sink their teeth into.
Trailers for The Grey would have you believe it's a two-hour, bare-knuckle brawl between Liam Neeson and some wolves. Forget those.
Yeah, Neeson fights some wolves. But that's not the only reason why you should watch this movie.
Liam Neeson plays Ottway, a broken man who has found himself living in a remote Alaskan community as a sharpshooter protecting oil company workers from the hazards of the wilderness they are infringing upon. After a horrific plane crash that makes Lost's opening sequence feel like watching a merry-go-round spin, a group of survivors are stranded in some of Alaska's harshest arctic conditions. When they're not battling the elements, they're up against a vicious pack of grey wolves, forced to deal with each other, and must find what inner strength they have amid their own fears and weaknesses. The Grey is a gripping character study masked behind a man-versus-nature yarn of the highest order.
Additionally, the sound is so expertly edited in this movie, you constantly find yourself put on edge. Calming moments are yanked away from you in explosion of windy fury. Peaceful silence is interrupted by cracking of branches in the dark. The terror of a party of howling wolves.
And, my god... the performances of some of this group are astounding. Of course, we all know Liam Neeson is the bomb. The man just continues to defy all conventional wisdom and has become increasingly badass in his filmography while never foregoing the brilliance of his craft.
And complimenting him is some really fine work from much of the supporting cast.
After his great turn in last year's Warrior, Frank Grillo continues to impress. It's hard for me to believe this is the same guy who played the ever-grimmacing lawyer Nick Savrinn on the first season of Prison Break. Watching that then, I never expected he'd be capable of providing so much depth to a character like Diaz, a tough-talking ex-con and constant agitator to everything around him. Also fantastic is Dallas Roberts, who was so wonderful on the ill-fated Rubicon, with his earnest portrayal of Hendrick, embodying the humanity of the group. And I can't fail to mention a barely recognizable James Badge Dale, who shines with Neeson's guidence in one of the best scenes of its type I can recall (this is a spoiler-free zone, but you'll know the scene in question when you see it).
All of this swirls into a powerful display of human emotion inner-cut with downright thrilling and suspenseful battles. I could never take my eyes off the screen.
If The Grey is a harbinger of what is to come in the theaters in 2012, count me as pumped.