In “The Grey” everything howls.
The snow howls. The wind howls. The men howl.
The airplane as it hurtles to the earth at 400 miles an hour howls.
And of course the wolves; the wolves howl most.
And watching, you will howl too.
This is a movie about pain, and whether there is anything for man to do but fight it, or give up. And is there a God, and does he fight for us, or give up. And if we’re still fighting at (what looks like) the end — or at least still breathing — is that enough?
And what do we do now.
At this point, I would watch Liam Neeson clip his nails, and pay for the privilege. That man can act. I take great liberties in assuming he is working so hard and so often these last several years to keep his mind off the death of his wife Natasha Richardson, three years ago, in March.
But what the hell do I know about it?
You know how so many movies start with a nebbish, only he’s “pushed too far” and becomes Rambo?
This is not that movie.
These guys actually start out badass. They look like — and you believe — they could beat the snot out of the wolves … just ‘cuz. Only it doesn’t go that way, not for the supposedly badass roughnecks, and not for the wolves, and not for you.
See, this is not that movie either.
On the plane there are guys who look vaguely like Kevin Bacon, Robert Downey, Jr., and Colin Farrel — only they aren’t. OK, Colin Farrel is actually Dermot Mulroney, but almost nobody else is anyone you’d recognize. I finally figured out who Henrick was in this life, but that’s about it.
And you get attached to these supposedly so tough nobodies. You begin to see them as people. They start out at as guys I thought I recognized, and become men I actually know a little bit.
And then they die.
A bunch all at once in the crash, and more as the wolves get really good at it; they die because of a difference of six inches, and because of sixteen feet, and because of six hundred.
Nearly all of it is believable.
I wept briefly and visibly twice during this movie, and there are no women in it, except in flashback or stories the men tell around the fire one night. These are hard men, some are criminals — Neeson calls them, and they call each other, far worse.
This movie is filled with beasts, and it is hard to tell them all apart. But there is much more as well, and you have to stay until the end to find out what, and even then you have to think about it, a lot.
Or I suppose you don’t.
You could give up.
In “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray’s Phil says grimly, “You want the weather? I’ll give you a weather report. It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be gray, and it’s gonna last you the rest of your life.”
This, once again, and finally, is not that movie. The “rest of your life” may be sooner than you think, and we don’t get 10,000 chances to get it right.
Sometimes it’s barely even one.
The last thing I can tell you is, stay until the end. Where that is, you have to say.
You might be wrong.
Some of the hard men are, and some in the audience when I saw it were as well.
The snow wind men wolves still howl. You must choose whether to fight or quit.
You might be wrong again.
Some men, lying about their fear, are. Others keep fighting. Both sometimes die.