The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie, as opposed to the upcoming podcast episode, which will contain spoilers and an in-depth discussion of this movie
My mantra is to “always judge a movie on its own merits.” This means that I try to always judge a movie based not on what I was expecting, but what I got. Nowhere was this more difficult than with Joe Carnahan’s The Grey. I was expecting “Liam Neeson Fights Motherfucking Wolves.” What I got was more along the lines of the book The Terror by Dan Simmons. The Grey is a movie about survival, and has barely anything to do with wolf fights.
The Grey is a potent and affective drama much of the time. There is actually some emotion here, and despite the fact that a lot of the dramatic moments feel a little too heavy-handed, these moments nonetheless make the characters of The Grey feel real. In fact, the only thing holding The Grey back from true greatness is how pretentious it is. Many movies are pretentious of course, but it doesn’t matter if the movie is flawless (i.e. There Will Be Blood). The Grey is just a little too aware of how “serious” it is.
And yet, some sequences are so effectively tense and frightening that it elevates these thrilling sequences above those in many other movies that are classified as thrillers. So there it is: The Grey is a good drama that thinks it’s a great drama, but it is a much better thriller than many movies that are actually thrillers!
I am aware that many people left the theater feeling cheated; in fact, I know this because in my theater somebody said “what?” when the credits started to roll. I once again beg people to judge the movies based on what they are, and not what the trailers say you will get; otherwise, you will always be disappointed.
A little afterthought: my favorite moment of the film is a quick shot of blood slowly filling a paw-print. So grisly and so beautiful. There are times when The Grey feels downright visually poetic.