Big Awful Friday: 'The Grey' shines on second look

Ed Robertson, atomictown.comSeptember 21, 2012 

Naturally, my initial impression of a movie is flawless.

That's what those 10 years at Movie Critic University were all about: ensuring my first word is the last word. Quite frankly, I don't even understand why all those other critics have jobs.

In that context, revisiting a movie would seem to be pointless. Everything's already been said. But what if you can be even more right the second time around? That's what I'm hoping to discover by taking a second look at 2012's The Grey.

At a remote Alaskan oil facility, Liam Neeson is the man in charge of keeping wildlife away from the workers. When their plane goes down, this leaves him well-suited to leading the survivors through the wilderness -- but a pack of savage wolves is tracking them through the snows.

My first take on The Grey was positive but mixed. I thought it was gorgeous and thrilling but also overly tough and a little pretentious, which isn't something you expect to hear in regards to a movie about the throat-punching guy from Taken getting into fistfights with wolves.

Yet the movie stuck with me in a way few movies do. Because on a second watch, it is very clearly evil.

Not evil like the Lannisters are evil. Evil in the way a shark is evil, or the Coen Brothers: There's no particular malevolence at work, just a relentless indifference that's somehow more frightening than targeted hate.

Director Joe Carnahan shoots The Grey with a cruel detachment that perfectly matches the movie's subject matter of trekking across a landscape that literally doesn't care whether you live or die. Given that, Carnahan's next project should probably be a documentary about the American health care system.

That detachment also helps prevent things from getting too cheesy when Neeson gets stoic and philosophical, which was my main qualm the first time I watched The Grey . In a way, it just doesn't matter how tough Neeson is because you know what? An Alaskan snowstorm is tougher. He's more evenly matched against the wolves -- although it takes a whole pack of them -- but there's no outlasting nature. Northern mountain blizzard nature, anyway. I hear those equatorial breezes are a bunch of wussies.

Cold inevitability is what The Grey captures so well. It's a movie that's heavy on mood, and mood movies won't strike everyone the same way. For me, though, I think I underrated it. I liked it even better the second time around.

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com.

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