Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Liam's thrown to the wolves in predictable action thriller

Unfortunately, the Ulster star can't rescue a script which has little bite, says Damon Smith

Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, Ben Bray, James Badge Dale, Director: Joe Carnahan

Air transport may well be trumpeted as the safest form of travel but for film-makers, the possibilities of disaster above terra firma are irresistible.

Set in the frozen mountains of Alaska, The Grey is a nightmarish thriller about a group of oil-rig workers - led by Ballymena star Liam Neeson - who survive a devastating plane crash, only to find that they have plummeted into the hunting ground of a pack of wolves.

It's a classic showdown between man and Mother Nature, and as usual, our arrogance, believing we stand tall atop the food chain, is swiftly punished by the wily predators.

The pivotal crash sequence is orchestrated with brio by director Joe Carnahan, who depicts the carnage through the eyes of the central character as he drifts out of consciousness, flames licking the air above his head as the fuselage disintegrates.

Visual effects really come to the fore once the survivors stumble out of the wreckage when digitally rendered wolves are combined with trained live animals and puppet animatronics.

Unfortunately, the computer-generated creatures don't look realistic and the script, co-written by Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, has bark but no bite. The order in which the cast will perish is clearly telegraphed and characterisation is thin, giving us scant reason to care about the men when tragedy stares them in the eye.

Sharp-shooter Ottway (Liam Neeson) is employed by a refinery in Alaska to shoot the wolves that sometimes target the roughnecks as they carry out their exhausting work.

After a gruelling five-week shift, Ottway boards the plane home only for a brutal storm to wrench the craft apart, depositing the widower and seven other men - Burke (Nonso Anozie), Diaz (Frank Grillo), Flannery (Joe Anderson), Henrick (Dallas Roberts), Hernandez (Ben Bray), Lewenden (James Badge Dale) and Talget (Dermot Mulroney) - into the Alaskan tundra.

The men huddle together for warmth but the local wildlife quickly encroaches on the crash site, attacking one of the men.

With the howls of wolves chilling the survivors even more than the icy blasts of wind, Ottway tries to galvanise his co-workers into action.

"We'll kill 'em. One at a time. Tip the numbers. That's what they're doing to us," he growls, determined to fend off the flesh-hungry beasts.

The Grey is a testosterone-fuelled survival thriller than casts Neeson as the hard man haunted by tragedy.

Physically, the actor is more than capable of taking on an entire ecosystem but he fails to fully convey Ottway's underlying grief that drives the hero onwards when other men fall.

Supporting cast are largely dispensable, earmarked as fresh meat for those starving wolves.

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