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Look, I know Schindler’s List is often considered to be Liam Neeson’s best movie, and I get it. Schindler’s List is an excellent film, and definitely one of Steven Spielberg’s best movies.
I also know that a lot of people would probably pick something like Taken, or Batman Begins, or hell, even Darkman if you happen to love Sam Raimi movies (that might also have a Bruce Campbell cameo here or there).
But no, ever since I watched 2011’s The Grey, it has dethroned every other Liam Neeson movie I’ve ever seen. And sure, while I’m well aware that The Grey doesn’t appear on a lot of people’s lists of Liam Neeson’s best movies, that’s what I’m here to argue, right? Because I can definitely back it up.
Oh, and spoilers up ahead.
Liam Neeson Makes For A Fascinating Leader Of Men
The Grey is an interesting character study, which you’d never imagine from the action-packed trailer, (which I’ll get into later). In the film, Neeson plays a sharpshooter who protects the men he works with from the Alaskan wildlife. The men are a group of average Joes who work at an oil facility, and due to a plane crash, the survivors end up trapped in the wilderness, being stalked by wolves.
Now, following Taken, which even Neeson was shocked was so successful, for awhile, the running gag was that Neeson was starting to play a number of characters with a certain set of skills. We saw this kind of action hero in other films like The A-Team, Non-Stop, Unknown, etc.
You know what I mean. Because after Taken, Liam Neeson sort of became the middle aged tough guy, and if you re-watch the trailer for The Grey, you kind of get a sense that that’s what you’re going to get with this movie, too.
But then, it’s not that at all. The Grey is a very different film, which almost feels meditative in nature. Liam Neeson’s character, John Ottaway, is a man with nothing to lose, as earlier in the film, we learn that he was suicidal after the death of his wife. So, it’s almost like every day that he decides to continue living is because he understands the frailty of life.
When the plane crashes, and the men panic, Ottaway looks at the matter in a rather philosophical manner. He realizes that they are sitting ducks, and since he understands wolves (and also that he himself is the alpha in this situation amongst the survivors), that he has a role to fulfill. This might be why he frequently thinks back to a poem titled, “The Fray” which has a very existential meaning to it in the context of their situation.
The other men look to Ottaway as a leader not because they entirely trust him, but more because they understand that he is the only one who understands nature in a way that they will never comprehend.
Honestly, Ottaway is the most complex character I’ve ever seen Liam Neeson play, and for that reason alone I think this makes The Grey Neeson’s best movie, but I have other reasons as well!
The Film Defies Expectations
I remember watching this movie in the theater when it first came out, and one thing I distinctly remember was the audience’s disappointment.
I recall one guy snoring loudly in front of me, and another person constantly tsking, which I assume was because the movie was not as quick-moving or as action-packed as he probably thought it would be. Liam Neeson performing stunts in Batman Begins, this wasn’t.
Instead, the film called a lot into question in regards to faith, or the lack thereof. It’s existential, and also heady. And so, I get it. In the trailer, we were promised Liam Neeson kicking some wolf ass. Because in one enthralling scene in the trailer, Neeson’s character breaks some mini liquor bottles to form a weapon for his fists as he charges headfirst at a wolf, and yeah, that would have been awesome if that had been the whole movie-Liam Neeson kicking ass.
But, do you know what? It would have also been pretty forgettable in the long run. Because while yes, The Grey could definitely be considered a “scary animal movie,” it’s so much more than just that.
So much so, that I often feel like The Grey is underappreciated, and often forgotten because it’s such a deeper film than just, “Liam Neeson fights some wolves.”
Liam Neeson Has Never Appeared More Vulnerable As He Does In This Movie
Liam Neeson is a real tough guy in The Grey. And at the same time, he isn’t. I mentioned earlier how he plays a leader of men in The Grey, but here’s the thing about that. Every last survivor of the plane crash who he tries to save, he doesn’t. One by one, the men either get picked off by the wolves or die in some other way, and one by one, you can tell that another part of his character dies because of it.
Because as we learn in the beginning, he couldn’t save his wife, who died of a terminal illness, and whom he thinks about frequently throughout the film. And while I don’t live inside Liam Neeson’s head, I can’t help but wonder if a part of him thought about his own wife, Natasha Richardson, who tragically died in a skiing accident not too many years prior to this film’s debut.
That raw vulnerability lives inside Liam Neeson’s performance, and you can see that sense of loss in his eyes, as well as his constant struggle to find meaning in life.
And even though we didn’t put The Grey in our list of thoughtful movies about depression, I would definitely categorize The Grey as a movie that’s absolutely about processing grief, and the distinct sense of loneliness that can only be found in depression. It’s that kind of movie.
That Airplane Crash Scene Gets Me Every Time
Ever since the plane crash in Lost, I’ve kind of gotten over plane crashes in stories. I find the plane crash scene in World War Z to be ridiculous, and overall, I just don’t like them in general. I find them to be a cheap and lazy way to grab an audience’s attention.
But I DON’T feel that way about The Grey. The plane crash scene in this movie is one of the most visceral, violent, and terrifying moments that I’ve ever seen in any film. So much so that it gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. I think it’s the fact that it’s punctuated by silence, and then roaring, aggressively loud moments that are still shocking on the small screen, but were a blast to the senses on the big screen.
That plane crash scene alone is really worth the price of admission, but I think there’s one other thing about The Grey that cements it as my favorite Liam Neeson movie.
That Ambiguous Ending
I adore ambiguous endings. I know a lot of people hate the ending to The Sopranos since it ends ambiguously, but I love how we never truly know Tony’s (or even his family’s) fate. The same goes for No Country For Old Men. I remember walking out of that movie, completely blown away, and pretty much everybody else I went with was annoyed because they couldn’t grasp the ending. As if they had to grasp the ending in order for them to like it!
Nope, the more ambiguous the ending, the better it is for me, since it leaves me thinking about the film long after I’ve watched it, and I’ve thought about The Grey ever since I first saw it.
I truly love how we don’t know who the victor is at the end of the movie, and it makes me think about The Grey more than any other film that I’ve ever seen with Liam Neeson in it. God, I love this movie.
But, what about you? Are you also a fan of The Grey? I honestly never hear anybody talk about this movie, and I always wonder why. It’s a quality film. For more news on all things Liam Neeson, be sure to swing by here often!