Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Anne Openshaw
Review: “Once more into the fray…” So begins a poem that is recited by our main character Ottway (Neeson) in the opening sequence of ‘The Grey.’ We’re not exactly sure where the quote came from but it sounds vaguely familiar. Was it Frost? Thoreau? It isn’t made clear but doesn’t quite matter at this early juncture.
Ottway is reciting this as he is writing a letter to his wife, whom it is made plainly clear is dead. Ottway is not even sure why he’s writing it. What he won’t let himself say is that it’s a suicide note. He has tried to live his life without her, but can’t go a single day without thinking of her. He has flung himself to the far reaches of the planet in Alaska. He’s gone as far as he could to escape her memory, but soon realizes distance does ease the pain.
His wife’s memory seems to be too much, but does he really no longer want it? It might be even more of a living hell to be without any thought of his wife. One way or another he will be haunted in his life by the hole his wife once filled. He has arrived at his only option to stop the pain.
Ottway ends up giving himself a stay of execution. He probably couldn’t answer why but chooses to keep on living. It might be the memory of his wife that drives him to continue or it just might be that he doesn’t wasn’t to take the easy way out. Either way, he decides to live.
Next thing he knows, Ottway is strapped to a row of seats in a commuter plane that has nearly been torn in half and is on its way to a crash. Moments later Ottway wakes up to a massive wreck. He quickly takes stock of his situation and gathers the other survivors. Six in total were “lucky” enough to stay alive through the crash and deal with the pack of wolves ready to make a nice meal out of each of them.
Together these men have to decide if they are going to try to live, or let themselves die. To the wolves, they are nothing more than a fortunate happenstance of food arriving in their territory. They are fighting not only Mother Nature, but the nature of these wolves to attack and feed upon those that trespass in their territory.
Ottway fights hard to live. Despite his attempt a few days earlier at taking his own life, he has determined that life is worth living at this point. Or maybe he hasn’t, but there is something inside of him that is compelling him to fight. He won’t lie down. He will go “once more into the fray.”
These men who were mere strangers but a few days ago are now learning things about each other and themselves that they never thought they would. What’s important to them in life, what reasons they have to keep moving forward, everything seemingly gets placed into perspective in these types of dire situations.
Through his revelations to the group we discover that the line Ottway recited earlier was from a poem his father wrote. His whole life he wasn’t sure what he meant or why his father treasured that specific poem so much. Ottway has been looking at his life through a lens of black and white. His wife was once alive, but now she’s not. He used to be happy, but now he’s not. There are other similar situations described by the other survivors in their lives as well.
The ultimate point the line reveals is that life isn’t simply black and white. There isn’t just life and death, there is a grey area. There is a meaning to life, there are the experiences we have, and they can’t be defined in absolutes. Every day we go “once more into the fray” as a reminder that we are living and there’s more to it than life and death, one or the other. We are not faceless zombies going through our every day lives, it is our responsibility to get our own meaning out of life through our experiences and the people that matter to us.
Heavy themes for what looks like an “action” movie to be sure, but it’s all handled very well. Neeson delivers as you would expect him to, the direction is tight and the writing solid. The cinematography and editing are above par as well. Some of the survival scenarios don’t exactly jive with reality, then again this is not the point the film is trying to make, so I will cut it some slack.
In the end, this is movie is worth your time.