“The Grey" DVD & Blu-ray

Monday, 21 May 2012 16:48

The Grey - on Blu-ray & DVDFollowing an horrific plane crash, within the freezing Alaskan wilds, seven oil workers fight for their survival against the harsh elements and a relentless and very territorial pack of wolves. Grizzled and resourceful huntsman Ottway (Liam Neeson) tries to take charge, but desperation, exhaustion and clashing personalities mean that the group is far from unified. Supplies running low, they strike out for civilisation with the hungry wolves in close pursuit.

“The Grey” is by turns haunting, terrifying and moving, and its appeal goes way beyond the standard hunter/prey genre. The characterisation is realistic and most of the characters are more than mere ciphers. As the story develops we gradually learn more about the lives and loves of these tough men who are taken to the limit and beyond by impossibly harsh conditions. Some of them start out as coarse and rowdy drunkards on their way home, but their layers are quickly stripped away to reveal much more sensitive and vulnerable personalities underneath, people that you want to survive.

The acting is top notch, with Neeson leading the way with another powerful but also sensitive performance. In his capable hands, Ottway is no superman or unstoppable force (as seen in “Taken”). As a hunter he naturally has better instincts for outdoor survival and knows about the wolves’ behaviour, but he struggles to keep the group together and experiences moments of weakness, self-doubt and despair when they suffer a setback.

Neeson covers the full scale from an emotionally broken man, an incredibly gentle and reassuring companion comforting the dying, to a fierce and determined warrior who vows to go on fighting until his final breath and his last drop of blood have been spent.

The rest of the cast is not far behind. Frank Grillo (“Warrior”, The Kill Point) is superb as Diaz, Ottway’s foil, the rebel who challenges the hunter’s every suggestion and who refuses to be led, instead ploughing his own disruptive furrow of anger and resentment. The other members of the group, played by Dermot Mulroney (“J Edgar”), Dallas Roberts (The Good Wife), Joe Anderson (“The Crazies” remake), Nonso Anozie (Game of Thrones, “Conan the Barbarian” remake) and James Badge Dale (“The Departed”, Rubicon) fall somewhere in between, but to a man they are also credible, living, breathing characters whose terror and desperation is crushingly tangible.

The movie looks terrific, thanks largely to the stunning Canadian scenery. Half the time you cannot see far beyond the actors’ noses thanks to the blizzards and the encroaching darkness of night, but when the weather offers a temporary reprieve the vistas open up to reveal gorgeous mountains, vast snowy expanses, forests and icy rivers. The Blu-ray version reviewed does feature some fine grain but in general the picture is pristine, lovingly capturing the striking landscapes, craggy actor’s faces and thick wolf coats.

The sound design and music are probably even more important and impressive than the visuals. More often than not the wolves are heard and not seen, their chorus of howls and the occasional unexpected, guttural growl sending many a prickle down the spine of the viewer. The simple but powerful score by Marc Streitenfeld (“Prometheus”, “Robin Hood”) sweeps us along, and like Neeson’s performance it compliments both the sensitive and horrific moments with equal poignancy.

The wolves form the third presence in the movie alongside the embattled survivors and the ferocious elements. As in “Alien”, director Joe Carnahan (who easily surpasses his previous efforts such as “The A-Team” and “Smoking Aces”) wisely chooses to keep his highly-efficient predators out of sight most of the time, as previously mentioned.

Even with today’s CGI and animatronic technology, the fake wolves are often easy to identify and this reduces their terrifying impact, but each time you think you have overcome your fear of them a bowel-loosening howl, or subtle indication of their presence such as warm breath rising into the air lets the imagination run wild again.

The best moment is when one of the characters wanders a short distance away from a camp fire at night, only to see a pair of brilliant lupine eyes emerge barely a couple of metres in front of him, shortly to be joined by two more pairs, then even more as the character and we realise that they much closer to nature (and death) than they ever realised! The wolves can attack using perfect stealth or gang up and charge at the survivors with deadly effect.

“The Grey” is a draining film to watch. The tension does not let up very often though there are a few brief moments of humour to lighten the tone. The excitement and nervous anticipation of the next wolf attack or environmental incident is borderline unbearable, and be prepared to jump out of your skin on numerous occasions. The movie follows an alternating path of incident, calm, incident, calm but the action is timed to perfection and I was gleefully caught out time and time again.

The movie is emotionally sapping as well, as we cannot help but empathise with the men as they trudge through knee-deep snow or huddle together by a fire that threatens to be snuffed out at any second.

In summary, this really is an excellent film and I am supremely confident that fans of the likes of “Pitch Black”, “Southern Comfort” and “Alive” will love it to bits!

Special features include a commentary track by director/co-writer Carnahan and the editors Roger Barton and Jason Hellman, plus deleted scenes. Hardly an overwhelming selection but at least the commentary is heart-felt and amusingly the trio appear to get more inebriated on Scotch as the movie progresses!

“The Grey" (2011) is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Entertainment In Video. The main feature has a running time of 120 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £19.99 on DVD and £24.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Monday, 23 July 2012 10:42

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