‘The Grey’ – Film Review and Analysis

The actor Liam Neeson has become one of the main action figures in Hollywood, starring in such popular films as ‘Taken’, ‘Batman Begins’, and ‘Gangs of New York.’ However, while these roles were a bit one-dimensional or short lived in terms of his supporting role, you get to see the full scope of his talents in a powerful and dramatic role in the 2012 film, ‘The Grey.’ In this fictional drama, we get to see a man pushed to his mental and physical limits and how he is able to come to grips with such weighty topics such as his own mortality and his religious beliefs.

Not only is ‘The Grey’ a great film when it comes to its views on mortality, religion, and the depths of human nature when pushed to its limits. The cinematography, direction, pacing and setting in the film help make it stand out. There’s something in this film for everybody who is a fan of serious cinema especially when it comes to character backstory, action scenes, and touching moments of vulnerability and camaraderie. ‘The Grey’ doesn’t sugarcoat anything as well and does not shy away from addressing real life struggles such as depression, a search for meaning, and the futility of having bad luck run roughshod over one’s life.

Man can only control so much in his life and that includes what happens to those who he loves, how he adapts and survives when it exposed to the worst elements of nature and of the animal kingdom. Sometimes, the only choice that you have is to fight, persevere, and struggle to the last breath even when things look bleak. Neeson and the other men in the film have to grapple with a lot of bad events that make it a hopeless situation to get out of. There is no choice though and all of them have to do their best to make it out alive especially to the ones they love.

John Ottway, the main character in the film played by Liam Neeson, is a guy you want with you in the oil fields of Alaska. We know little about his backstory in the film, but it is revealed that he struggles with depression, meaning, and his faith in a higher power. He dreams of a woman who is his wife and the audience are not sure if he is still with her or if they divorced or each other or if something fatal has befallen her.

We assume that he is in Alaska working as a marksman protecting oil workers from the wolves and that he is doing this job for lack of better options and to preserve some remaining meaning in his life. Part of the brilliance of this film is that it doesn’t reveal everything too quickly about why Ottway is in Alaska or what happened to his wife. ‘The Grey’ does not ignore the great sense of suspense that can be built up over the course of the film to make a true compelling drama that captures and holds your attention until the end.

Ottway and the other men are facing grey wolves who see them as a threat and it’s not possible for the men to communicate to these wolves that they are friends and not foes. The animal kingdom suffers no man especially when he is in their territory. They can’t communicate with each other so it’s a battle for survival between man and wolf. While the grey wolves in real life are harmless and do not hunt humans, ‘The Grey’ takes some creative liberties with this fact in order to have a compelling film. Despite the criticism from animal rights groups, if you enter the area of a wolf’s pack den, you are likely asking for trouble regardless if you didn’t mean to do so, man or animal alike.

After a freak plane crash, Ottway and the other oilmen must fend for survival in harsh conditions while they are stalked by wolves including its alpha leader who see the men as threats to be reckoned with. Ottway has killed wolves before to protect the oilmen when they’re working in the fields and he knows what they are like. Against ever increasing odds of survival, he proves to be a great example of how to lead men in times of crisis and peril. His leadership, throughout the film, proves pivotal in giving the men a shot to get out of the Alaskan wilderness and back to their families. Even though it seems at the beginning of the film that Ottway has lost his will to live due to the situation with his wife, the freak plane crash and his survival from it propels him to try and save the men and outwit the wolves if possible.

Still though, ‘The Grey’ is a serious and realistic film about how far faith will carry you out of a real crisis. There is an underlying atheistic outlook of the movie that may rub some people the wrong way, but I found it to be needed. In life, when you face a tragedy, a crisis, or a perilous event, faith can only do so much, and you have to claw and fight your way out of it. I think ‘The Grey’ does a great job of showing how important it is to confront your fears, show true leadership, and fight as hard as possible against the odds to make it out alive of a bad and deteriorating situation.

Ottway’s character and his fight against the Alaskan wilderness and the wild wolves is a great metaphor of how each of us is fighting against our own personal demons and against events that are beyond our control in life. We each have a struggle to face and we have to do it on our own. If we have a wife or a crew by our side, that’s a great thing to have but that’s not always the case as it is in ‘The Grey.’ When you’re put into a bad situation and all hope is lost, you have to truly fight for survival and live like it’s your last day because it might just be it.

There’s an excellent quote from ‘The Grey’ that has a lot of resonance for how true it is regarding life’s fragility and how you have to live like it’s your last day and to do the best you can to survive against the odds. “Once more into the fray…into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day…live and die on this day.” This quote that Liam Neeson’s character recites throughout the film is not only a metaphor for his fight against the wolves and nature but his fight against depression and to make it through the day when all hope seems lost.

‘The Grey’ is a true survival film and it is excellently directed with a great starring performance by Liam Neeson. I believe it is an extremely underrated film and does a good job of bringing up various themes surrounding hope, faith, loss, and about life’s injustices. If you can check it out, I highly recommend giving ‘The Grey’ a view. It will be well worth your time.

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Movie Recommendations – Volume I

‘Good Kill’ (2014)

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Good Kill is an excellent drama/thriller film that highlights the ethics and the cost involving drone warfare and how it can affect the servicemen and women who have to pull the trigger and live with the consequences. Starring Ethan Hawke, this film is a deep and probing look at how warfare conducted from thousands of miles away can still leave a lasting imprint on those who have a role in it even when they are not anywhere near the battlefield.

The film highlights correctly how while drone strikes may carry less collateral damage to civilian lives, there will always be the chance for the loss of innocent life and families being destroyed. Whether that’s an errant missile crashing into a wedding party or a group of children running by a targeted building within seconds of a missile being launched and getting caught in the crossfire, death from the skies will not only affect terrorists, but women and children too. Because drone strikes are less costly to governments and militaries, the rules of engagement can sometimes be abused to focus too often on low-level targets, who pose some actionable threat, but who could also be captured for intelligence purposes. A lack of international norms and standards regarding drone warfare leads to serious consequences in terms of possible abuse by governments who overuse it on secondary targets.

Airmen and women such as Ethan Hawke’s character and his colleagues, who conduct drone strikes, are shown to suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder because they get to know their targets, see how they live, and struggle with having the power of death over them. High-resolution surveillance makes the act of killing personal despite the fact that these servicemen are thousands of miles away. When a drone strike goes wrong and innocent civilians are killed, it leaves a long-lasting psychological effect on the military personnel involved.

They may not see their victims when they are flying an F-16, but they are aware of what collateral damage is when they see the dead bodies of women, children being shown on the high definition screen. Military service members do not last long as drone pilots due to the immense mental strain placed on them especially when they did not sign-up for conducting warfare with a joystick. Alcoholism, depression, and family problems have occurred due to pilots being asked to conduct drone strikes in the name of national security. All of these issues are highlighted in Good Kill making it more than just your average film about war, but also about an excellent look on how the human condition is affected from holding life or death decisions over those who never see it coming.

‘Roma’ (2018)

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Roma is more than just your average film about a family. It is excellent in its scope and ambition in covering a tumultuous period in Mexican history and for highlighting the issues of family, race, and class within the larger society. What I enjoyed most about this film was that it felt personal and it is based off of the childhood of the director Alfonso Cuaron. The way the story unfolds feels as if it has been lived out before.

Cuaron’s work and that of his film crew that was done with the cinematography, film editing, and screenplay is extremely impressive and goes to show the audience just how film is another form of human artwork that can display beauty, meaning, and pure emotion.

Amidst the story of this family are real-life events in Mexican history that overlap with the film without overwhelming the intimacy of the story being told. For example, The Corpus Christi Massacre or “El Halconazo” in 1971 are intertwined with Cleo’s search for a crib for his newborn baby to be.

Nobody in this film is perfect and true human error of both behavior and character are laid bare. Amongst the flawed characters in this film are redemptive qualities about them and how they fight and struggle to overcome betrayal, disappointments, and tragedy. The film is gripping in that it is about real life and there is no sugarcoating. In Roma, no one is immune from setbacks and struggles, and that is what makes the audience invests in the story being told even more.

Compared to many other films that I have seen, few have touched me more on an emotional level than Roma. The realistic dialogue, the set pieces, the chain of events, and the character development all lend to its longevity as one of the best films of the decade. If you have a Netflix subscription, do yourself a favor and watch Roma. You won’t regret the chance to view this pure work of art and I would not be surprised if it sweeps the awards at the Oscars. It is that good of a film and a noteworthy achievement by director Alfonso Cuaron.

‘A Private War’ (2018)

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This is a biographical film without feeling overwhelming or too much tied up in the protagonist. This film does a good job in covering the life of the deceased war correspondent, Marie Colvin, who reported from multiple war zones over two decades including Sri Lanka, Iraq, Libya, Syria. Marie was a fearless and bold reporter who did the under-appreciated work of reporting the facts on the ground when it came to what was going on in these war zones.

The film portrays her as someone who battled the terrible things that she witnessed and the horrors that she could not avoid. She struggled with her dependency on alcohol, cigarettes, was divorced twice and also had her bouts with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as many war correspondents deal with when they return home from a war zone. Rosamund Pike, the lead actress in A Private War does an incredible job in accurately portraying who Marie Colvin was in how she mimics both her mannerisms and her speaking style throughout the film’s entirety.

Despite losing an eye, suffering from PTSD, and struggling with maintaining her friendships and relationships away from the battlefield, Mrs. Colvin dedicated her life to reporting the truth and the facts from war zones around the world so that everyone would else would know the costs of war.

While she was afraid and while she was fearful, she had the courage to press on and do her duty in informing the public on what was going on. While she was killed during the siege of Homs, Syria, her memory lives on with this film and the work that she did for two decades in holding the powerful accountable for the wars that they started. In an era where journalists are being denigrated and dismissed with increasing impunity, it’s refreshing to see a film that pays tribute to a war correspondent who gave her life to the cause of reporting the facts so that people would be more informed on what was going on and to also care about why it was happening.  

‘The Revenant’ – Film Review and Analysis

What happens when you push a man to his utmost limit? What occurs when you take everything from him including his wife and child? At the point of both physical and mental exhaustion, what carries the man forward to keep on fighting and to keep on living? Few films really probe these questions related to the power of the human spirit as realistically as ‘The Revenant.’ An excellent and unique film that was propelled to success, both commercially and critically because of the acting brilliance of Leonardo DiCaprio and through the special direction of Alejandro González Iñárritu.

‘The Revenant’ is a 2015 film that is both a sprawling epic and an intimate biography, which covers a time in American history where the West was not yet settled, and both the elements and the native population could cause a settler or a trader to lose their lives all too quickly. The film is also a western in that it depicts the rough and tumble life of a frontiersman who was at the whim of not only nature but also hostile animals and native tribes who were lurking just behind the shadows of the mountains and the forestry that surrounded them.

Hugh Glass (portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio) is one such frontiersman who was a real-life person skilled at being a fur trapper, explorer, and a hunter. While his story was embellished for ‘The Revenant’, the legend itself while it may not have happened in all of its audacity still makes for a great movie adaptation. The legend surrounding Mr. Glass involves him being left for dead after he was abandoned by the fur trappers, he was assisting in their quest to participate in the burgeoning fur trade in the Far West of Montana, the Dakotas, and Nebraska.

After a vicious attack by a grizzly bear while out hunting for food and provisions for General William Ashley’s expedition, Hugh Glass was essentially left for dead by those men who had abandoned him even though he was still alive. Glass had killed the grizzly bear who had attacked him but was essentially rendered immobile by the attack and could not talk or walk on his own two feet for weeks. In the historical accounts, Hugh Glass was able to somehow heal himself enough to crawl, stumble, and walk over 200 miles (320 kilometers) to Fort Kiowa, South Dakota to survive.

In the meantime, he had survived attacks from the native tribes, living in conditions of winter weather and brutal cold, and avoiding potential hazards such as icy tundra, treacherous mountains, and other elements. The one thing about both the historical portrayal of Hugh Glass’s story and that of ‘The Revenant’ was how he thrived in those brutal environments given his history as an explorer and a fur trapper. If you are able to live at the edge of civilization and make a living for yourself in doing so, you should never be counted out when it comes to surviving when all hell breaks loose.

Compared to the historical legend, Hugh Glass, thanks to the brilliant acting of Leonardo DiCaprio is given a more substantive background that makes him a more relatable figure. In the two and a half hours of the film, Glass is portrayed also as a family man just trying to make his way in the world by making himself useful to both the fur trappers and the U.S. Army personnel who have come to take territory for themselves and make themselves rich in the unforgiving North American wilderness. In this cutthroat environment, there are no room for careless mistakes and the viewer will see in the film just how deadly each day can be. If there is any wisdom that Hugh wishes to impart on his family is that he wants to give them the tools for survival even if that means his own demise.

Glass is not a perfect protagonist and it is clear from the beginning of the film that he is out for himself and his family alone as he does not let anyone, or anything come between him and his son Hawk. His deceased wife was a Pawnee Indian and his son, Hawk, is half-Pawnee. After the death of his wife, Hugh Glass is extremely protective of his son, Hawk, because he knows that the men, he is traveling with do not see him as an equal because of his Pawnee background. Glass is committed to protecting his son because that is all he has left to live for.

While respectful towards the Pawnee, Glass and the other fur traders are fearful of the Arikara who are out to find their tribe chief’s abducted daughter, Powaqa, even though they didn’t take her. In order to survive, Glass has to defend himself and the other traders from the Arikara who are vicious in their hatred of anyone who has invaded their territory. After the fateful bear attack that severely wounds Glass, Hawk prevents the trappers from killing his father and they move on without him leaving John Fitzgerald and Hawk to carry him back to the Fort where he can get medical attention.

Unfortunately, Fitzgerald is a sociopath only concerned about his own survival and terrified of the Arikara attacking again. Fitzgerald kills Hawk as Glass watches in agony because Fitzgerald was selfish in his desire to survive and leave Hugh to die. Another man, Bridger, leaves Glass to die as well and they take his gun and all of his provisions leaving him defenseless against the brutal elements. While Bridger is complicit, it is Fitzgerald who draws the ire and contempt from Glass in his quest for vengeance.

Despite being left for dead, Hugh Glass is hellbent on getting vengeance for the death of his son, Hawk, and wanted to get revenge on John Fitzgerald for killing his son, taking his provisions, and leaving him to die in the wilderness. Through his knowledge as a fur trapper, his ability to track both people and animals, Hugh was able to survive the treacherous winter conditions, heal himself and his wounds, and able to eat buffalo and horse meat to survive. So much was Glass’s desire for vengeance that he was able to travel the 200 miles to get to the Fort to seek treatment for his wounds and gather up the strength to set himself on the trail of John Fitzgerald. In the case of Hugh Glass, an eye for an eye is warranted when his whole life (his wife and his son) have been taken from him.

While the real-life story of Hugh Glass is up for debate, ‘The Revenant’ draws the audience in through its stunning visuals, powerful acting by actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy and the visionary directing by Iñárritu whose tracking shots from the opening battle to the bear attack scene to the final fight scene between Fitzgerald and Glass will leave the viewer breathless. This is a pure survivalist movie of man against man and nature but it also revolves around an emotional core of someone who is trying to do his best to sustain himself and his son in harsh living conditions. The movie’s setting is strongly intertwined with a perilous time in American history where Native Americans, fur trappers, French explorers, and even the U.S. army were fighting to the death for control of lucrative trades and future security in the untamed yet wild territory of the Northwest region.

DiCaprio and Iñárritu made ‘The Revenant’ in mind for its unabashed portrayal of both the beauty and the brutality of the natural environment. It is a movie that highlights how precious and fragile our climate is and how men can negatively affect it through their desire for greed and power. ‘The Revenant’ is as much as a morality tale as it is a tale of the utility of revenge. Two men, one whose world has been ripped apart due to the loss of his wife and son, and another man who fears losing his money, his fur pelts, and his life to Arikara attack are brought together in a struggle of good against evil. The film poses the question of is vengeance worth it? and how can justice be served in a world that is based on survival and not codes of morality or law? Arguably, one of the best films of 2015, ‘The Revenant’ was one of the best films of this decade and deserves a viewing.

Led by an Academy award winning director (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu) and starring an Academy award winning actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), ‘The Revenant’ is a jaw-dropping and powerful film that will stay with you after the credits roll. The film’s themes are extremely relevant in terms of its varied focus on family, revenge, survival, and how to seek justice in a lawless environment. More than anything, it shows the fragility of civilization and how important it is to be able to put yourself in difficult and challenging situations to show what you are made of. Hugh Glass was not a perfect man but he knew what it took to survive against all odds and seek justice against those who had wronged him and his family even if it meant certain death.