But it’s probably a losing argument. The wolf of traditional stock villainy, as opposed to zoology, can be traced from Aesop, The Three Little Pigs & Red Riding Hood to the modern werewolf movies.
The Grey is a dark & rather unsavory thriller concerning a bunch of oil workers whose plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness. The most capable of the survivors, Ottway (Liam Neeson), who hunts wolves for the company, soon realizes that they’ve crashed on the turf of a wolf pack, & he takes charge, trying to lead the group to safety. As the wolves, among other perils, cull their numbers, personality clashes intensify within the party.
The script, by director Joe Carnahan & Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, based on a story by Jeffers, offers some man-against-the-elements philosophizing in between a lot of macho head-butting, in between gory wolf attacks—it’s something like jacked-up Jack London with a dash of slasher movie. The animals look heavily computer-generated in many of the scare scenes, however, which weakens their impact.
I can’t say I found this movie likable, but it has a saving grace, & its name is Liam Neeson. One of the few authentic slabs of beef left in current movies, Neeson’s imposing masculinity, his no-nonsense maturity & the lupine sadness on his face give this overbearing melodrama a touch of Bergmanesque tragedy.
There are other creditable performances—notably by Frank Grillo as the most obnoxious of the party & Dermot Mulroney as the least obnoxious—but no other contemporary actor I can think of could give the role of Ottway the plausibility that Neeson does. Indeed, he brings the film the wild animal presence that the wolf effects fail to capture.
RIP to Robert Hegyes, best known as the “Sweathog” Juan Epstein on Welcome Back, Kotter, passed on at 60.