Review: THE GREY

February 14, 2012

Yeah, the French poster is even more misleading

Unbearably tense and unexpectedly poignant, The Grey packs a wallop.

It’s a movie of many layers, this one. At first glance at its trailer or its poster, which emphasises a glowering Liam Neeson in don’t-mess-with-me mode, one might expect a gritty action flick in the vein of the actor’s recent hits, such as Taken.

The Grey quickly moves to subvert that impression, though, presenting itself as a man-against-nature melodrama that pits a handful of characters against the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash.

And it soon moves beyond even that, becoming a moving, thoughtful meditation on mortality, faith and the human spirit.

That’s pretty heady stuff for what initially appeared to be an action-adventure movie featuring Neeson versus a pack of wolves, and to his credit director and co-screenwriter Joe Carnahan brings a fair bit of psychological depth and emotional punch to the proceedings.

Of course, there are also times when he overextends himself, aiming for profundity but instead coming off like a would-be Hemingway or Jack London. (Still, there are worse role models.)

After the misfires of Carnahan’s last couple of films (the overblown Smokin’ Aces and the not-bad A-Team), this is a much more mature and much more satisfying effort.

The bare-bones plot has Neeson, a sharpshooter tasked with taking down the wild animals that occasionally menace the employees of an isolated Alaskan oil refinery, as one of the few survivors of the crash.

Tough as these men may be – and The Grey’s early scenes presents them as rough-edged ‘outlaw’ types – they’re no match for Mother Nature at her meanest, with the wintry conditions quickly taking a toll.

Even more threatening, though, is the wolf pack that is fearless about taking on the newcomers who have invaded their territory.

See THE GREY or I'll eat your face

Carnahan quickly and effectively establishes a sense of unease, presenting the elements as unforgiving and the men as relatively powerless, and it gradually becomes clear that it’s not so much a case of how these people are going to survive but if they are.

And in scenes that are harrowing, shocking, riveting and powerful, The Grey shows their battle against nature.

The acting is strong across the board (Frank Grillo is a standout as the most belligerent of the bunch), with Neeson’s trademark combination of strength and sensitivity proving the perfect foundation for this harsh but heartfelt tale.

Fox is really cutting costs on that WOLVERINE sequel, huh?


Review: THIS MEANS WAR

February 14, 2012

You’re absolutely right, you four producers and three executive producers of This Means War.

So are you, you three writers. You too, the director known as McG.

And let’s not forget you, 20th Century Fox, the studio distributing this alleged action-comedy.

This does mean war.

But before hostilities get completely out of control, maybe a warning shot is in order.  So take heed.

This will not do, people. A night out at the cinema is getting more and more expensive. The number of viable entertainment alternatives is increasing all the time.

And I might be just speaking for myself here but my time is precious. I don’t have 90 minutes and change to blow on some slapdash, subpar piece of junk like this movie of yours.

The three leads of THIS MEANS WAR exit the movie's premiere

Now I know filmmaking can be a tough racket, and no one starts production on a picture setting out to make something useless, pointless, asinine and inept on every level.

But sometimes that’s exactly what happens.

Maybe it’s a case of the various pieces, many of which seem perfectly fine on their own, failing to fit together.

Maybe it’s a case of not enough time and not enough money to do the job right.

Or maybe it’s a case of most everyone involved simply coasting through the process, blithely confident their reputation, past glories or bag of tricks will result in something audiences will happily accept.

Whatever the reason, the end result is the same: This Means War is a halfway decent idea dumbed down to such a degree that anyone with the ability to find their way to a cinema, pay for a ticket and locate a seat without getting lost will be insulted by what they see.

"Hey, weren't you in THIS MEANS WAR?" "No, you're thinking of someone else. As you see, I have a beard."

I must admit, I do like the central concept of two top secret agents, FDR (Star Trek’s Chris Pine) and Tuck (Inception’s Tom Hardy), taking their alpha-male competitiveness to ridiculous extremes when they both begin dating the same woman, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon).

But any finesse, subtlety or semblance of wit is utterly absent from McG’s trashy, boorish and ham-fisted handling of the scenario.

And even the charm of the three leads, none of whom display any chemistry in any configuration, can’t save the day.

The only redeeming feature of this movie: it seems to dislike Chelsea Handler as much as I do!

So This Means War is aptly named, because it’s really a declaration of war against movie lovers. So fight back the best way you can – ignore it completely.