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The Grey: Liam Neeson’s best action film takes on masculinity – and a few wolves too

This 2011 action flick was marketed as a gnarly genre picture Neeson Wolves Snow Survival but it is surprisingly deep and often very moving

Over the years there have been many wilderness survival movies, loads of Liam Neeson action flicks and a fair few depictions of hungry wolves craving human flesh. Joe Carnahans frosty 2011 action-thriller The Grey ticks all three boxes and then some it not only stars the grizzled Irishman but has him wrestling ravenous canines. After being bitten during one moment of man on wolf action oh yes there are more Neesons straight protagonist John Ottway jokes Maybe I will turn into a wolf man now.But it is not that kind of film. Having said that one of the amazing things about The Grey Neesons best action movie by a wide margin is its blurring of the line between high and low art.

This allowed it to be accurately marketed as a gnarly genre picture Neeson Wolves Snow Survival and then once in the door audiences expecting little more than an interspecies punch on found themselves grappling with and potentially sniffling through a deep exploration of masculinity. The Grey contains some extraordinarily moving sequences that give me shivers just thinking about them.Set in remote Alaska the film follows a small group of plane crash survivors all men who trudge across an unforgiving storm ravaged and wolf-populated landscape. The white expanse around them provides the barest of aesthetic platforms a kind of hollowed out stage in a theatre of the damned.

The men who all work at an oil refinery include the sage Ottway the belligerent Frank Grillo Burke Nonso Anozie and Talget Dermot Mulroney who carries with him the wallets of people who died in the crash.Neesons opening narration establishes basic character and situational detail A job at the end of the world. A salaried killer for a big petroleum company and then moves into melancholic self analysis I do not know why I did half the things I have done evoking a sense of place and purpose but I know this is where I belong. During these early moments Ottway prepares to die by suicide but stops when he hears wolves howling. He has a man on the brink before he becomes the films deeply principled moral centre rather than a gung ho all guns blazing type.

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