New thriller ‘The Grey’ anything but dull

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It’s official: Liam Neeson has cemented himself as the world’s favorite new action star.

Ever since his ultra-macho turn in “Taken,” people just love to see this guy kick ass. So when I heard of a film about Liam Neeson fighting wolves in the wild, my first thought was, “Well, that’s ridiculous,” and my second thought was, “But I’ve got to see that!”

Thankfully, “The Grey” is so much more than that. At its core, it’s a survival story. When a plane full of oil drillers crashes, leaving only seven alive, they must find a way to survive in the Alaskan wilderness amid freezing weather and a bloodthirsty pack of wolves.

“The Grey” is absolutely not for the faint of heart. It’s a film that will put your nerves into overdrive, keeping you constantly on edge; scenes of contemplative quiet quickly revert back to turbulent scenes, and then back again. The plane crash at the beginning of the film is one of the most frightening and overwhelming scenes I’ve seen in a damn long time.True terror personified.

When it ended, and we were treated to a moment of silence, there was a scattering of “whoas” heard around the theater. It’s that kind of movie, one that will have you verbally reacting to what you’re feeling. And how can I forget the wolves?

When we’re first introduced to a pair of glowing white eyes in the darkness of night – which then turns to a LOT of glowing white eyes – we feel the danger just as sharply as the men do. Neeson gives a riveting, tormented performance as the alpha of the group. As their numbers slowly start to diminish, the already potent tension increases, constantly keeping the audience in the story even when nothing is really going on except a bunch of guys marching through the snow.

While the cinematography is a visual treat (though just thinking about that snowy vast whiteness will make you feel cold), it is actually the sound editing and mixing that makes “The Grey” the memorable experience that it was. With ear-shattering sound effects (once again, the plane crash!), I can’t remember the last time I felt so present during a film.

An unconventional action-thriller, “The Grey” is a somber film that, unlike most films of its kind, stops to get to know the characters, and never forgets that these are humans with loved ones they desperately want to get back to.

Director Joe Carnahan exhibits an impressive ability to create a distinct and memorable atmosphere and tone. We’ve seen movies that take place in similar settings, but Carnahan gives the entire film its own edge, with atmospheric music that bends and molds itself into its grim setting, never making its presence obvious to the audience.

There are a surprising amount of laughs, some intentional through cheeky dialogue, and some that will inevitably stem from the constant presence of the wolves, which can’t help but feel just a little bit campy at times.

Regardless, by the end of the film, I was pretty firm on my belief that there is no sound more frightening (and sometimes humorous) as the howl of a wolf.

Rating: B+