By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Jack London cozies up to Frederick Nietzsche in “The Grey,” a sweaty-palmed action film about survival of the fittest.
On every imaginable level.
En route to an oil rig in Alaska, Liam Neeson and a snack tray of assorted humans crash-land somewhere in the Great White North. There they must survive wolves, weather and each other.
Neeson becomes the de facto leader because…well, because he’s Liam Neeson. But also because he is a sharpshooter by trade who was hired to protect the rig workers from assorted predators.
They barely get a fire going before it’s game on —with a pack of wolves who aren’t just hungry; they’re miffed because these intruders are on their turf.
Ok, so the film is essentially “Ten Little Indians” in sub-freezing temperatures. But there’s an existential/moral aspect too, as these men are forced to confront mortality in some pretty gruesome ways.
Thus the title, “The Grey” (love that it has the British spelling) isn’t just code for a mess of furry fury. It also refers to that gray zone — between being and nothingness, between choosing the good of all versus one’s own survival, between fighting for your life and accepting your death.
How we die becomes as much of an issue as why we die. More often than not, it’s not really up to you
Buried beneath parkas, hoods, layers of clothing, ragged beards and ice hanging from their noses, the actors aren’t always easy to distinguish, one from the other. They’re all good, with the possible exception of one loud-mouth tough, played by Frank Grillo as if he were channeling John Cassavetes in “The Dirty Dozen.”
Neeson, with his sorrowing Irish eyes and Leading-Man profile wisely doesn’t overwhelm the movie. He knows he doesn’t have to. But he does carry it, with the same sort of bleak remorseless intensity he brought to “Taken” and “Unknown.”
Which, I can’t help but think, has as much to do with the freakish death of his wife, actress Natasha Richardson (Vanessa Redgrave’s daughter), as it does with his growing older.
Obviously, “The Grey” isn’t a date movie. Well, maybe if you have a really weird date.
But I would suggest you go with someone you care about. Someone you wouldn’t mind being stranded with on a landscape as blankly unforgiving as something out of a Beckett play.