For reasons that boil down to we should all just give up, we have accepted the presence of marketers in our everyday life.
Thus it's acceptable for credit card companies to call us during dinner, for missionaries to knock on our door while we are trying to appreciate the mind-expanding majesty of the Internet, and for fundraisers of all kinds to attempt to shame us for our callousness as we walk into the grocery stores without which we would die. Yet if I give them an impromptu demonstration of the anesthetic properties of a mallet, do I get a medal? No. Not unless it's for Most Terrified Cellmate.
I do my best to avoid all this by dressing in knives and training my dogs to attack pamphlets on sight. Yet even violent hermitude can't help me escape. Not when you have to deal with marketers like those who handled The Grey, who did their best to make sure everyone will leave the theater unhappy.
In The Grey, Liam Neeson's wife has left. So has he, to the remote oilfields of Alaska, where he patrols the grounds with rifle in hand to keep the employees safe from wolves. On a flight back to the city with his co-workers, the plane goes down.
Few survive the crash. Those who do soon find themselves hunted by wolves, who will track them for miles through the harsh snow.
So let me get to the heart of things: whoever is responsible for The Grey's trailers deserves to be beaten. In fact, they may need to commit ritual apology/suicide for what they've done. The only other solution to restore their integrity would be to quit the trailer-cutting business right now and dedicate the rest of their lives to inventing a time-travel device to go back and undo what they've done. Which is to ruin, or at least significantly diminish, their whole damn movie.
Allow me to back up, preferably over the head of whoever made that stupid trailer. In some regards, The Grey is a silly piece of work. I made fun of the last Twilight for featuring a climactic scene of vampires punching werewolves, and The Grey sometimes threatens to be little different. Except for the part where Neeson is a suicidal Irishman rather than a fabulously wealthy immortal. But yes, it is primarily a movie about a band of stranded criminals being chased around by wolves.
Neeson's character, meanwhile, is open to ridicule himself, except if you were to do so he would pull your ribs from your chest and strap them to his hands Wolverine-style. Because he's a paid death-dealer who wants to die himself, he thinks about death a lot, sometimes in ways that flirt with or possibly outright grope cliches and triteness. But you know what? I don't think it is humanly possible to discuss death without being trite. Shakespeare himself couldn't have talked about death without sounding dumb, which is probably why he never ever tried. In summary, then, whatever.
Thing is, The Grey isn't really the action movie we've been led to believe. It's much quieter than that. As quiet as a movie filled with wolf howls can be, anyway. Just a few minutes in, Neeson comes within moments of shooting himself. In clear violation of International Standards of Awesomeness, the plane crash is shot from entirely within the plane, robbing us of our God-given right to watch vehicles kerplode like people-packed missiles.
Directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan, The Grey is much less about wolf-boxing and much more about dread, baseline survival and atmospherics, both in the artistic sense and in the sense that the actual air is attempting to bury the survivors under a mat of bone-freezing ice crystals. It's wearying and forlorn and gripping.
And despite having to drop 900 wisdom-bombs about the proper formal attire for appearing as a wolf's banquet (it's bacon), Neeson anchors things with a haunted, stoic performance.
And then, through no fault of its own, the ending threatens to undo everything. Man, I'm watching my spoiler-step more carefully than a trip to the dog park here, so let me just say this: try to look at this as the movie that was made, not the movie that was marketed. Divorced from expectations, The Grey is a stark and pleasant surprise.