It’s a well-told tale of an enormous blank, white sheet on which several very-dark souls try to say their piece.
The cosmoloogy of this film is explained by the narrator at the very beginning as he writes and reads a letter he’s writing to a loved one who’ll never receive it. It’s a tale of a handful of evil (lone wolf) men exiled to the frozen north; a tale told by their defective protector, who’s only sure of one thing, that he belongs in the company of discards, omegas and rejects. His narration is like a suicide note, written in blood, on a rest-stop bathroom mirror by a soulsick guy in transit, who truly belongs exactly nowhere.
And the airplane that’s meant to transport John Ottway (and his similarly-impaired companions) “home”, crashes in the middle of an enormous page of absolute tabula rasa, where the crash, the storm, the cold and the pack of pretty-darned-plausible CGI wolves reduce the size of his company until the film concludes in the final confrontation of Ottway and the alpha wolf in a gentlemanly contest of champions — to which Ottway brings a fistfull of tiny broken bottles, electrical tape, and a woefully-inadequate hunting knife.
This is a story that’s mostly-told. It’s told very well, within the confines of the mythology it fabricates, leaving Ottway plenty of time to repeatedly consult the suicide letter that reminds the viewer of the warm&loving side of the mirror from which Ottway’s personal choices (and pathological predispositions) divorce him.
But it’s a told tale (and possibly also a tall tale) that felt the usual Hollywood-conventional need of multiple camera angles, inserted music, and a wealth of spoken words to tie the viewer into the precariously-suspended lives and deaths of several men whose almost-constant companions are a pack of enormous wolves who make Ottway & Co. seem profoundly-insignificant snacks in their BigBad (hu)manly badass bravado, by comparison.
I think it would have been a more effective film if it were shot through the eyes of the hometown team, from the points of view of the natural (CGI) predators. STILL, it is, nonetheless, an effective, engaging, suspenseful adventure that I’m glad Sam turned me on to.
As a NetFlix rental disc, all the special features are completely unavailable, because it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and a movie executive’s got to make a buck somehow (ScottFree and Inferno); disappointing. When the wolves aren’t at the door, I might actually buy myself a copy of this one. Easily 80% of the film incorporates effective elements that worked very well in Jaws, The Flight of the Phoenix, ConAir…it’s only in the very last reel that the relentless, ubiquitous menace of The Pack abates for several minutes while the unrepentant “lone wolf” humans focus the viewer’s attention on more important things than their sociopathic survival; like family, relationships, theology and various bits of wholly-unrelated bullshit.
This film reminds me of Joss Whedon’s assessment of Air Force One because I spent 117 minutes watching a character study in which there is no recognizable change in any of the characters.
What do I have to do today to make it a good day to die? It was an excellent question when it was posed in Little Big Man 42 years ago. Still is.
Second pass, 09JUL2012: In 1908, Jack London published To Build A Fire, a short story that built Yukon cold, and newbie hubris into a classic tale of human stupidity witnessed by a dog. There was no pressing need for wolves. The Grey probably needed them.
The film doesn’t quite work as a realistic portrait of seven survivors of an Alaskan plane crash because significant details get in the way of a literal reading; Ottway is attacked early, but arterial blood spurting in heart-pulses from his right lower thigh requires only a wrapping bandage to permit instantaneous healing that lets him take the lead in a desperate march from the wreck through the snow to the relative safety of the trees the very next morning. Later, there will be desperate floundering in a river from which Ottway emerges in dry clothes. A desperate 30foot leap off a cliff into a treetop with the aid of a tether made of knotted rags, rope and clothes while The Pack waits at the base of the tree for Talget, and not at the edge of the cliff. Diaz spits blood, as though he might have been more seriously damaged, during his attack, than he let on. Maybe that’s meant to make his decision to resign from the trek and life more plausible. I don’t think it did. Burke just quits breathing. Henrick drowns. Hernandez and Flannery pissed them off and straggled. Wolves just raised the stakes, most of the guys died of their own ignorance. As would I; not to throw stones.
It doesn’t really work as a fable, either. The alpha’s eyes are lime-colored. The charcoal gray of his coat makes an awkward comparison with the deep steely blue of Ottway’s eyes — unless the title of the film pertains to the uncertainty of the survors’ survival; the life&death struggle in a gray area involving Ottway’s belated exhortation for God to prove His existence by intervening in behalf of a suicidal widower whose father once proclaimed the virtue of NOT going gentle into that good night. No. That also stinks. There’s zero uncertainty in my mind concerning Ottway’s survival of the final confrontation with the alpha. Seven pairs of outraged, shining eyes glared back at the five remaining crash survivors on the second night. That Ottway stole all the way home is an ironic tribute to Hollywood bullshit. That it was the wrong home is actually pretty damned interesting.