I almost didn’t watch ‘The Grey’. It didn’t get the warmest of critical receptions, and honestly, it didn’t look all that intriguing to me. A bunch of men being hunted by wolves in the wilderness; I mean, it had promise but it also had potential to be really dumb. I remember when it was released this past January and my friends went and saw it and pretty much destroyed it. They loathed this. One of my friends told me the only reason to see this movie was to see Liam Neeson punch a wolf. So, I passed. I didn’t see the need to waste my time. Yesterday, I was bored and saw that this was on Instant Watch with Netflix, so I decided to give it a whirl. I had been prepped for disappointment, so I was utterly prepared to regret this decision.
You’d think that I’d have learnt by now to never trust my friends when it comes to movies.
‘The Grey’ is a tightly woven adventure film that pits a group of oil workers against harsh weather and even harsher animals as they survive a tragic plane crash. Upon doing so, they are immediately at odds with one another, but one man steps forward to lead this group to safety. Ottway, an emotionally conflicted hunter dealing with darkness in his soul and suicidal thoughts, takes the reigns when it becomes apparent that the group is being hunted by a pack of ravenous wolves. Despite the blistering cold and the countless obstacles in their path, the group grows stronger (as their numbers dwindle) and Ottway’s determination to survive overtakes him.
As a film, ‘The Grey’ is very good. It is sharply edited to keep us glued, and it is beautifully shot. But, above all else, there is one really big reason to watch this film; Liam Neeson.
I’m labeling Neeson an Oscar snub months before the nominees are announced because even I know that there is no way he’s being nominated this year. ‘The Grey’ was a January release and is all but forgotten by now. With the countless films being released in the next few months with strong actors in baity roles, Neeson has about a 2% chance of even getting a mention by a critic as an Oscar hopeful. He has an even less percent chance at an actual nomination. Still, I moved to highlight this performance because it is everything that an Oscar nomination deserves to be. Neeson is an actor who has truly come into a new era of celebrity as he’s stepped into the role of action hero. With ‘Taken’ he proved that age is nothing when you have a voice of steel and the presence of a soldier. With ‘The Grey’, Neeson shows us that he can balance out the strength of a leader with the vulnerability of a man.
|Just an excuse to post a picture of Russell Crowe ;-)|
I’m going to just go ahead and say it; this performance reminds me quite a bit of Russell Crowe’s Oscar winning performance in ‘Gladiator’. That is the sad fact for Neeson, for if ‘The Grey’ had been perceived as a better film (why in the world was this dismissed?) and if it had been released later in the year then I could easily see Neeson, a respected and talented previous Oscar nominee, very much in the conversation of Oscar. Instead, he’s going to be shafted.
Neeson’s very first scene, which consists of mere voice over and a suicide attempt, sets the stage for his character’s complete full circle, and that is one of those things that really moves me towards loving this performance. We watch him go from this man who has practically lost everything to this man who is determined to live for something. Watching him stir up the men under his wing so-to-speak, or watching him stare down the beast with a lustful sense of survival, stirs in us such emotional connection to this ‘every man’. Neeson perfects that vision of a relatable man we can all rally behind, we can all invest in because he reminds us of ourselves. Peering into his eyes we see his very soul staring back at us. You never once see the actor but you always see the man. The weight of his past and his sadness crushing down on him, Neeson builds a complete portrait of this man with searing realism.
And that moment, where he talks a man through his own death is phenomenally played.
At the end of the day, Neeson turns in one of his finest acting moments yet in a film that is exciting, compelling and emotionally resonant. It is a strong film that deserves a wider audience.