Joe Carnahan is one of those frustrating filmmakers to get your head around he has had a more interesting career hypothetically (and in all fairness has desired such a career) than he has had in actuality.
I’m much more interested in the alternate universe Joe Carnahan who made his long threatened opus, Killing Pablo. The one who had the balls to make White Jazz with George Clooney. The one got to make the Mission Impossible 3 that he proposed. The one that scared the shit out of Tom Cruise so badly that he ran to David Fincher of all people to lighten things up.
I am less interested in the one who ended up directing The A-Team and producing Smoking Aces 2. When looking at his CV one is left with one film that’s pretty good considering, one flat out masterpiece and a guilty pleasure of a gore cartoon. For all his potential and despite the fact that I like him personally, there is no doubt that Joe Carnahan has talked a better game than he has played.
Not only is The Grey the best film that has had Joe Carnahan’s name on it in the ten years since Narc, it may even be better than Narc. A hardcore piece of masculine cinema that feels out of time. Robert Aldrich might have made this, Walter Hill on his best day, Raoul Walsh, Peckinpah, John Huston. Hell there’s even the slightest touch of Herzog in this thing. To walk into one of todays theaters and see this thing feels nothing short of astounding.
Pitiless, merciless, written with a keen understanding of human nature and shot superlative skill, The Grey isn’t just good. It’s as great as B-Movies get. And if you know me, you know that designation is not a put down by any stretch of the imagination.
Liam Neeson centers the movie as a man who finds his survival instinct reenergized at the least expected time. It’s one of his best performances, and if you come into the movie expecting him to be “Just doing Liam Neeson” be prepared to be reminded what an affecting actor he can be. It was always Neeson’s surprising vulnerability not his cool that made him such a fascinating presence (that and his freakishly large hands) and his character Ottway is one of his best performances.
By now you’ve most likely heard the premise of an Artic Drilling Crew stranded in the tundra, hunted by wolves. Perhaps you’ve even seen the misleading trailers which try to sell the film as Unknown But With Wolves. What you probably haven’t heard is about the seething desolation of the environment that Carnahan creates. The way hope slowly drains from the men and their environment, until they reach something that almost transcends hope. You probably haven’t heard of the tense set pieces Carnahan sets up. The way he shoots these animals and the animals the men become to fend them off. The impenetrable dark lit only by the eye shine. Driven back only weak fires. The desperation that this movie brings. This is Jack London gone brutal and crazed. This is great cinema.
Welcome back Joe. I’ve missed you.
In case you haven't been following along I rounded off the 80's and kicked off The 90's over at Son Of Danse Macabre, with two of my favorite horror movies to write about. I think both turned out pretty well, but why don't you go over and judge for yourself?