Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Catching up with 2012: The Grey

I haven't seen this pointed out elsewhere, which doesn't mean it hasn't been, but: The Grey stars Liam Neeson as a man who responds to the tragic and premature death of his wife by journeying to extreme places to take jobs that require him to kill things. I shall absolutely not go so far as to say that it's a deliberate self-commentary, particularly since Neeson wasn't the first actor attached, and since his new career as cinema's favorite aging badass was ignited with 2008's Taken, before the shocking death of his wife Natasha Richardson; but surely we can all agree that he turned into a full-flung action star in The A-Team, Unknown, and the upcoming Battleship (and if you really want to push it, Clash of the Titans) with eyebrow-raising speed; the pop-psychologist in me can't help but wonder if just a tiny part of that is the rage of a man against how goddamn unfair life is, expressed in a series of splashy and pornographically violent fantasies about getting revenge on all the bad guys.
                                                                                                           ---- Tim Brayton

I tend to side with Tim on this one (his review can be found here). When thought about in the context of Neeson's own life and personal tragedy surrounding his wife's death, The Grey becomes so much more than its pathetic trailers suggest. I love that the film plays with the idea of "A Liam Neeson Action Movie" (and how weird, even after all of these post-Taken action films he's starred in, that we're used to the notion of “Liam Neeson Action Star" in the same way we are used to, say, "Bruce Willis Action Star") where instead of getting Neeson Versus Wolves (NVW?), we’re presented with a much more bleak, contemplative film about life and death and the will to keep going even though there's nothing really left to move towards. Yes, that sounds trite, but so what?  The Grey is intense and earnest in all of the right places; it plays like more of a cerebral adventure film than a fight for survival action movie as it applies a slow burn approach as the film moves towards an inevitable: an incredibly bleak existential coda that I absolutely was not expecting when I sat down to watch the movie. I like the simplicity of The Grey, and I was damn shocked to be so moved by its melancholy opening, especially considering the film’s director, Joe Carnahan, has never shown the ability to pull that particular club out of his bag. The film still punches you in the face the way Carnahan’s earlier films do, but its intensity and dourness is also nicely balanced by the performances (I especially liked Dermot Mulroney) in the same way his great Narc was. It’s not some surprise film that will sneak its way onto my year-end list, but it’s a helluva a lot better than it had any right to be considering the way the studio was selling this thing to potential viewers. It’s worth checking out for the fantastic opening, Neeson’s performance, and the way the film works on you with an existential sadness that pervades the film as you start to realize that there can be no happy ending here; a sadness made all the more resonant and affecting when thought about within the context of Neeson’s own tragedy. 


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