I have seen the plot before and it is rare that it works. And when I heard there would be CGI Wolves, I was hesitant to say the least.
However, given the right director, authentic location shooting, powerhouse performances and the IMPLIED threat of a merciless predator, this type of film can work. Thankfully, this is the case with 'The Grey'.
So the plot is really nothing new. An oil drilling team crashes in Alaska and must face a pack of territorial wolves as they struggle to make their way through and survive. So far, so simple. But the director, Joe Carnahan (showing us again the visual gritty panache and character development he revealed with subtlety in 'Narc' and less so in 'The A Team') uses the dire circumstances of his protagonists as a means to explore the emotional, psychological and spiritual consequences of confronting their eventual demise.
Purists and animal lovers will abhor the role of the wolves. They seem DELIBERATELY cruel in their hunt of the survivors of the plane crash. Both sentient and cognitive, they demonstrate a willingness to hunt the humans down one by one as if they have made a plan and are determined to execute it with ruthless efficiency. Even though cases of wolf attacks on humans are quiet rare, the movie suggests that should anyone find themselves in the middle of wolf territory, or indeed a wolf den, then ALL bets are off.
In fending off the wolf attacks, these already rough-hewn oil refinery workers have to revert back to their primitive selves and in so doing reveal their insecurities, their fears and their failures. So used to the hard but confined and secure world afforded by their petroleum employers, the disparate group of men must band together in the beautiful but desolate and unforgiving Alaskan wilderness, all the while being pursued AND devoured by seemingly ungodly assailants.
All the performances are uniformly excellent, with the standout portrayal belonging to Liam Neeson. Both reluctant action man and damaged victim, his introspective, emotionally scarred and all too vulnerable performance is heartbreaking to watch, particularly given the tragic death of his real life wife, actress Natasha Richardson, a year before filming began. He relentlessly drives the film to it's ambiguous conclusion, thus allowing you to forgive it's more unlikely moments while still celebrating the human tenacity to simply 'carry on' in the face of almost certain death. The fact his performance was overlooked at The Oscars is more than reason enough to purchase this DVD.
At least an 8 out of 10. Buy it and enjoy.