The Grey

Monday, January 30,2012

The Grey Poster
Rarely, will I review a movie that is currently showing in theaters and, to my knowledge, is not directly based off a book. But you will soon see why I am moved to write such a piece as this, so here goes.

The Grey,” starring Liam Neeson, appears to be a typical survival movie at first. And it is, for those who enjoy the “Man vs. Nature” plot lines. And under the direction of Joe Carnahan, the merciless realities of a harsh landscape like the Alaskan wilderness are shown in brutal detail. The scenes do not spare the audience from the vicious undoings of the movie’s characters.

Within the restless action of the movie there lies a deeper story of familiar and unnerving human emotions. At first, it’s hard to agree to follow the story when right away the audience is supposed to believe the whole plot centralizes around the unbelievable circumstances that a pack of wolves is strategically hunting human survivors of a plane crash. After all, the first documented incident of wild wolves attacking a human post nineteenth century in North America was in 2005 in Saskatchewan. Wolves just don’t attack people.

Facts and circumstances to the characters’ survival and death could be nitpicked all day, but that’s Hollywood, where loyalty is solely to cinematic value. But during the movie, the circumstances allow Neeson’s character, Ottway, to take us on a ride of emotion that some of us have only felt in our most horrific nightmares. And by the end of the movie, that is simply what I had reduced it to. I thought the whole movie could have been simplified in thirty seconds of a bad dream. But as my steadfast critique softened over the next couple of days, I came to accept what else the movie was showing us.

During the scene every good action flick needs, when the characters open up and reveal deeper layers to their being, Ottway recites a poem his father had written which seems to narrate his fight for survival. At four lines and 25 words, the poem could not put the action into context more succinctly. It’s what every writer should aspire to do with such few words. And all of the sudden, the storytelling gave me chills.

During the movie, Ottway’s memory contrasts his nightmarish reality with his dreamlike safe zone – a comforting memory of him with his past loved one. It’s in his thoughts of his secure memory that we learn why his character faced a new beginning. He started his life over in the dark winters of Alaska and left, what seems like, everything he knew from a former life.

Cleverly done, the story takes us from a dark depression to an even worse scenario of tragic loss of life in the Alaskan wilderness. I imagine that cold and wet feeling with no hope of warmth and trying to survive is one of the most uncomfortable feelings a person can have. Yet in the unsettling circumstances, Ottway knows he needs to fight for his life. As miserable as things get, they’re cut no breaks and facing the seemingly soulless animals, the heavy desolation turns into an animal aggression of their own. Here, the human spirit gets its chance to show its resolve when it’s cornered in despair and there’s no room for sorrow.

I recommend the movie to anyone who can ignore their criticism of Hollywood’s portrayal long enough to see the characters and wolves as a reason for the feelings this story conjures.

Watch the trailer here

The drama of a wildfire captured… on paper?
Sunday, October 2, 2011

Timothy Egan delivers a winner again with “The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America” which ignites any reader’s interest in history. He captures the stories of those people who played vital roles in this part of the country’s history. Egan brings back to life people like Gifford Pinchot, who any natural resources employee should know, and Ed Pulaski, whose legend every firefighter has come to hear. And those, who in some way never died, such as Teddy Roosevelt, are stoked back to a warm glow for us to absorb while diving into this book. The life in this book makes us have to remind ourselves that this story is 100 years old. The character driven history feels current and urgent.

Sometimes I think if we learned anything from history, it’s that if we don’t learn from history, history tends to repeat itself. There are lessons to be learned from history, and if we forget those lessons, we are doomed to repeat those lessons. Then sometimes I think about those lessons and what we can learn. But before I learn too much, I go back to watching TV or whatever it is I was doing. The point is, are we going to let a fire sweep across this great nation and burn up all our timber, townships, towns, and townsfolk? And our hopes and dreams along with it? The answer is no. If the story of these courageous and bull-headed frontiers types doesn’t inspire you to wake up and stand up, than try some jumping jacks. Wake up. These are men and women who had it anything but easy. They took it upon themselves to go into their environment, out in the world, and make it better. Their ideals may have butted heads, but they stood for what they believed in. Does carrying on their legacy today mean entrusting our lands to public or private interests? You decide. But the answer can be summed up in a song. Randy Rogers said it best when he sang, “I’d call it progress, if it could be saved.” And then Brady Black takes us home on the fiddle.