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The Grey

Year: 2011
Production Co: 1984 Private Defense Contractors
Director: Joe Carnahan
Producer: Joe Carnahan/Ridley Scott/Tony Scott
Writer: Joe Carnahan/Ian McKenzie Jeffers
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo

Liam Neeson continues his march towards the thinking man's action hero for the 2010s, but this lacklustre film cuts too many corners to really impress.

He plays a wolf exterminator at a remote Alaskan industrial site, hurt over the mysterious departure from his life of a beautiful woman he dreams about but whose exit isn't explained until nearly the end.

Shortly after almost blowing his brains out from grief but being distracted at the last moment, he boards a flight that crashes in the wilderness and finds himself the erstwhile leader of the band of desperate, hungry and freezing survivors.

But the screaming winds and whipping blizzards aren't the biggest danger as it becomes apparent they've crashed in the territory of a wolf pack that's either very hungry or very angry. With desperately built fires they keep the monsters back, but they know it won't last. They have to make a break for it and get away from the wolves' turf.

In classic Alien style, the handful of men crumble, argue, fall to the slavering pack and dwindle in numbers over the course of the film and the high point of the movie is that it's the first film I've seen since An American Werewolf in London to make wolves scary. The flipside is of course that it's the canine equivalent of Jaws, and while wolves in the wild who are hungry enough will attack a human, they're nowhere near as big, angry, snarly or monstrous as the movie depicts them in real life.

Unfortunately, the movie pulls way too many punches. It might have been budgetary, but there's too many things we should have seen that we don't.

For a start there's no crash, just a special effect of hero Ottway's (Neeson) dream of his wife being wrenched from his arms. He sits up surrounded by wreckage and it might have been a dramatic choice to not show the crash itself, but it's an action thriller that starts with a plane crash and they can't even show a close-up of men pitching violently in their seats as the flight goes down.

Secondly, there's no pitched battle the trailer whet our appetites for. Ottway performs the very marketing-friendly move of taping small bottles in between his fingers and then smashing the ends off to form the scrappiest, meanest street fight improvisation ever. He's actually facing the boss wolf, a drooling black behemoth the size of a small horse, but in a blink when the fight starts, we cut to a black screen and the movie's over.

An enigmatic way of leaving us guessing who won? Bollocks – a cheap money saver to avoid the dodgy CGI wolves of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and The Day After Tomorrow. If you see Liam Neeson preparing to fight a wolf with broken bottles taped to his fists, you want to see the fight.

And that's the third, related problem. For a movie about men trying to survive hungry wolves, there's a more or less unforgivable lack of wolves. They show up in a few long shots and very quick close-ups, but it's all build-up and no payoff, especially after they've built them up to be such effective antagonists (for example in the night scene with the hideous howling all around the camp).

Ambitious but limp.

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