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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - Page updated at 11:30 p.m.

Movie review
'The Grey': a harshly beautiful, bloody game of man vs. wolves

By Soren Andersen
Special to The Seattle Times

Out beyond the circle of firelight, eyes gleam in the night in "The Grey." Two eyes. Six eyes. Ten. More.

Lots more.

Hostile, unblinking eyes. Eyes coldly regarding a handful of men cowering close to the flames.

Then there are the sounds in "The Grey." Howls. Snarls. Screams.

The sounds of men being torn to pieces by wild beasts.

It's man against nature in "The Grey." And nature has the upper hand. It can kill in so many ways, and does, often in spectacularly bloody fashion.

Filmmaker Joe Carnahan ("The A-Team") has made a movie of primal power in "The Grey." The tale, which he co-scripted with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (whose short story "Ghost Walker" is the inspiration for the movie), is elemental in its simplicity. A plane crash strands a small group of survivors in the Alaskan wilderness in the dead of winter.

The crash site is in the frigid, snowbound middle of nowhere. The survivors, a scruffy bunch of oil-field roughnecks played by a group of mostly little-known character actors, have no radio. They have no guns. They have little food and less hope that they'll be rescued. No one knows where they are.

What they do have is about a zillion ferocious wolves closing in for the kill. And they do have Liam Neeson as their leader. So perhaps all is not lost.

Neeson is the ultimate alpha-male actor in movies today, and consequently the character he plays might be just the guy to save the exhausted, frightened group from the snapping fangs of the wolf pack and its enormous alpha-male lupine leader.

Or maybe not. Neeson's character is a man in torment. Early on he's seen chewing on the muzzle of a high-powered rifle, his finger tightening on the trigger. He's in the grip of suicidal despair over the loss of the love of his life, a nameless beauty (Anne Openshaw) glimpsed only in fleeting flashbacks. Can he rouse himself from his funk to lead the other survivors to safety?

In addition to his commanding physical presence, Neeson has the ability, unmatched by any other Hollywood leading man, to convey soul-deep anguish. In this picture, it's shattering in its intensity.

Filmed in British Columbia, "The Grey" is a harshly beautiful movie. Saw-toothed mountains, frigid rushing rivers and snowy forests stretching as far as the eye can see are captured with such vividness by director of photography Masanobu Takayanagi that you feel you can practically see your breath as the story unfolds.

Soren Andersen:

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