After surviving a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness and gathering around to watch a mangled friend die, the oil-rig roughnecks of "The Grey" do something unexpected.
Tears don't usually come easily to men in survival movies, especially before they've shared the bonding experience of devolving into murderous animals.
"The Grey," however, is a different beast. It's a puzzling mix of brutal violence and softhearted sentiment, both embodied at once in Liam Neeson as a poetry-quoting alpha male named Ottaway. The film's conflicting tones never quite mesh, but some fine acting and powerful moments make "The Grey" watchable, if not entirely compelling.
The title refers to a large wolf whose pack is hunting the human survivors, though it also applies to Ottaway. He's a sorrowful loner -- a type Neeson plays well -- leading a pack of misfits that includes the nihilistic Diaz (Frank Grillo), the God-fearing Talget (Dermot Mulroney) and others who are less definable (i.e., more disposable). Between facing down animals and each other, they'll relate personal stories, form friendships and -- again, unexpectedly -- apologize when they get too aggressive.
Director Joe Carnahan ("Smokin' Aces") literally goes for the jugular -- the scenes of men being eaten like fresh gazelles are harrowing -- but he also shows real sensitivity, lingering on faces as awful decisions are made. Based on a short story by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, who wrote the script with Carnahan, "The Grey" touches on heavy themes of God and nature but doesn't know quite what it's saying. Its ending amounts to a shrug, as if the film is hoping you'll be the one to make sense of it all.
Plot. Plane crash survivors in the Alaskan wilderness find themselves stalked by a pack of vicious wolves.
Rating. R (gory violence, strong language)
Playing at: Area theaters
Bottom line. Brutal violence and softhearted sentiment make for an uneven mix in this watchable but frustrating movie.