The Grey is a standard action movie. There is a tough, older hero leader, a band of brothers, a problem, savage villains that somewhat mirror but are unlike the good guys, and a journey. It's also a great guy movie. This film smells of man. The frozen, isolated mountain setting, the battle with wolves, campfires, beards, sharp sticks, storytelling and swearing. These guys don't run from the wolves when someone is attacked, they run towards the wolves. The movie really pushes that vibe of positive brotherhood, yet it also reveals the background of how men fit into America today across generations. What do these men have to live for is steady issue, and their stories are rather illuminating on modern men. I found that far more interesting than the beautiful setting or action sequences.
Let's start with the characters and how they fit in. Ottway is the white, boomer Alpha. He is the rough, outdoorsman leader type. Tall, dark and powerful, yet with a reflective soul that seeks more. He has knowledge that the others do not due to his age & experience. He is our main protagonist. Spread throughout his pack of men, similar to the wolves, are the different types of men in America. There is the Gen X tough guy Diaz, who is portrayed as a Hispanic (named John), and is the ex-con, no woman in his life, hard working but nothing to live for back there Gen Xer. He is the Gen X nomad. He challenges Ottway in the completely set up Alpha face off and is put down in his place. The Boomer Alpha still rules. There is the Gen X white guy (Talget) portrayed by former heart throb Mulroney. He's handsome under the glasses and hat, but he also has an ex, who rarely ever agrees with him and loves his daughter. He's the Gen X divorced guy everyone knows one of who has a witch of an ex-wife. As we slide down the generations, there are the two Millenials and a black character. Burke, the black guy, has few lines, no stories, little impact and dies from the harsh conditions. We only know details of him from the sensitive Millenial or when Ottway goes through his photos. There are plenty of black writers who would say this is mirrors how society & black men intersect ***. The Millenials (actually played by Gen X actors) are the Hispanic Hernandez who has the family yet still plays his packed handheld video game, the Jolly Joker, player prole Flannery who has multiple women on the sly, and the sensitive, sharp Pete Hendrick. When Diaz does no want to go on, Hendrick implores him to keep it up with that Millenial can do optimism. Hendrick is willing to take the leap for the trees and knows the stories of the other guys. He is a family man as well. These are the men you see every single day. We see their types all around us and in our families.
What happens to them? They get picked off one by one. The wolves get to them, one the mountain takes, and in Burke, the condition of living is too much. The Gen Xer's do not have the fight nor qualities to assume leadership. One is a criminal fringe nomad, while the other is your standard American chump who got divorced and lost his kid in it. They b*tch about their lot and always want more but do not earn it. The Millenials have the man-child scenario as exemplified by the jokester player and the video game player. Their shining light is the Hendrick character who shows flashes of becoming the man Ottway is and fails to be at all times. Hendrick has faith, smarts and courage. It is for naught, as he is killed just inches from the water's surface in a sad twist of fate. Ottway is the last man standing. A man connected to the tougher past (B&W photos of his dad in uniform) raised with the rod & love. His wife, his true love, dies. See, guys? Even when you find that special woman who won't divorce you and take the kid, who actually inspires you, she can be taken like that? He calls to help angrily to God, but no answer is sent. What does he have as he faces that big bad wolf in the den? What meaning does his life have at the end? What does the American man have? Is it just to fight that big bad wolf of hardship and suffering head on? Fighting on your feet for something, when life has given you nothing, is the mark of being a man.
The idea of the fight is something Ottway learns at a young age from his father. Ottway learns the 4 lines from his father's poem; the only poem he had framed; his father's very own work. Passed on from one generation to the next. I didn't like the idea of it dying in the snow. Having read up on hero mythology & construction, I really expected either the Diaz or Hendrick character to learn from Ottway and survive even if Ottway died in a climactic battle with the alpha wolf. It seemed tailor made for "the younger aspiring hero learns from the older hero who sacrifices himself or leaves the stage for the younger hero to grow and complete the quest". Hollywood is in a bit of a pessimistic mood right now with confused good & evil plots (any war film), apocalypse or disaster movies that are not averted (Knowing, 2012), and hero deaths that are sacrifices or have no obvious payout. The final trio had me thinking one would survive because of Ottway's sacrifice. The battle he would fight at the end would allow for the other to live. It just seemed to make sense with the whole beacon emitting watch being passed from one guy to the next. Hollywood sent a bleak message with this movie. Maybe that was the intent to tap into our down, pessimistic times. "The Grey" made me think, and it is always a pleasure to see a movie that makes one think.
*** Anyone who wants to point out how our POTUS is black can ask him who was he surrounded by when he was a child? Who raised him? genetically, he is half black. In reality, he was an opportunistic, lonely & ambitious white kid culturally who had a cloak to wear and manipulate others with for his gain.