The Grey

Joe Carnahan is a tough director to track. He's made five features, four of them major releases and their themes and styles are split more or less down the middle. Narc, his first real feature, is a gritty and brutal cop drama filmed in insane hand cam with wild saturated colors. His two middle films are just the opposite. Smokin' Aces utilizes an enormous cast to play out a video game script thats entertaining but definitely silly. The A Team was Carnahan's true entry into Hollywood filmmaking. He had major movie stars and a 110 million dollar budget so he went to town. I enjoy all his previous efforts and his name was really the only reason I ventured into the theater to see The Grey.

I'll try not to really talk about the actual events of the film as that'd really just end up giving things away. The trailer does a fairly good job of setting the movie up though but it fails at everything else. Yes there are wolves in this movie. Yes they're antagonistic. And yes, everyone, once and again they are digitally rendered and not really the best looking. But the amount they're shown in the trailer is in stark contrast to how much they appear in the film, percentage wise. The real villain in the film is the harsh Alaskan elements themselves and I'm happy that Carnahan didn't create a digital creature film.

One thing I noticed nearly right away is the films similarity to Narc in its staging and photography. There's a lot of hand-cam and low light photography so the whole movie looks like it's covered in snow even when it's not falling. The gain onscreen forms a nice look and definitely works. But The Grey is far less manic than Narc. It's slow. Not necessarily slow paced as the two hour run time goes by pretty quickly. The slow nature of the film comes from Carnahan actually slowing down to let his cast of great character actors do their jobs. One scene in particular stands out to me. The whole scene is comprised of three angles and over the course of about ten minutes you only see about 4 edits. It's very un-Carnahan and it's actually pretty brilliant.

Now when they aren't trying not to die from the cold weather they're trying not to die from wolf attacks. They set up early on that the reason the wolves are after them is because the humans are in the wolves' territory and seen as a threat. I don't know if every viewer will buy that but I did, so, there you go. The wolves end up being incredibly scary even when you don't see them. They do an amazing job sound mixing the distant howling of a pack of wolves of unknown size. When the wolves finally are seen Carnahan does a great job of intercutting digital wolves with actual wolf footage to preserve the illusion. When the wolves actually attack the cutting of the shots is insane and incredibly frantic, making the maulings that much more intense and disorienting.
The last thing I'll say is that the films ending is a bit shocking. Not in the events that transpire but more that Joe Carnahan had the balls to end the film the way he does. It's very different from anything you would expect from him. The audience I saw it with grumbled into the lobby about it but I really loved it. I hope those of you who bother to see it will do.

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