Alaskan refinery man John Ottway (Neeson) may be a crack shot with a rifle, which he uses to take down stray predators, but his people skills are non-existent. Doesn’t matter if there’s a bone-crunching bar brawl going on or if a guy’s trying to make getting-to-know-you small talk – John will either ignore the situation or shut it down with hard-stare terseness. Like a movie star of yesteryear, this man of introverted inaction wants to be alone.
Then he boards a doomed flight to Anchorage … Liam Neesonites surely know what comes next in Joe Carnahan’s alternately tense and fatuous thriller. The plane goes down in the snowy wilderness (a superbly terrifying sequence) and a ravenous pack of wolves play Ten Little Indians with the ragtag, all-male group of survivors whom John tries to lead to safety.
Moment to moment, the film is gripping and beautiful to behold (props to cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi). But those expecting a hinterlands gloss on Taken with rapacious curs in place of nefarious Albanians: Carnahan and company are after meatier game, heavy on man-versus-nature existentialism of the sort that incorporates on-the-nose monologues and cringingly gauzy flashbacks to lost loved ones between each painterly animal attack.
By the time John turns into an arctic-circle Ahab for the film’s pompously truncated finale, The Grey has devolved into goopily pretentious machismo – Neeson might as well be bellowing, ‘I’m making art!’ in his best Captain Caveman.