Sunday, January 29, 2012

Joe Carnahan: The Grey

The Grey, Open Road Films, 2012.

Rebounding from the career nadir which was the odious The A-Team, low-key American auteur Joe Carnahan delivers arguably his best film yet. It is also indisputably the best of Liam Neeson's recent spate of early year actioners, usually courtesy Luc Besson, this year round courtesy of the inimitable Scott Brothers (who also produced the loathsome A-Team). Carnahan's penchant for brutal masculinity rendered in an almost poetic clip, is served well here.

Having begun his career with an impressive DIY action-thriller, Blood Guts Bullets and Octane (in which he starred, as well as doijng everything else), Carnahan forged on with the impressive genre film Narc. His rugged cinematic schematics were revealed in all their stunted, inborn glory. He fiendishly feeds on the past masters, for Carnahan that would be Friedkin, Coppola, Scorsese, De Palma, Eastwood and Mann. Their patriarchal artistic views of shreds of marginalized American life as filtered through cinematic genre and device ( especially the action film) inform Carnahan's distinctive style. Smikin' Aces became a cult phenomenon, followed by the sell-out A-Team.

The Grey is a tour-de-force in every sense of the word. Its beauteous opening and voice-over narration recall Conrad, Dostoevsky and Melville, their tortured travelers. Neeson has never been more magnetic in a film. He holds the audience in a vice grip, as his survivalist-hunter must make it through an airplane crash and attacking wolves in the Alaskan wilderness. Nothing about the production sounds original, and yet, Carnahan's fresh voice and vision as a filmmaker command our attention. He recalls Hawks or Siegel at times in his complete command of the narrative AND visuals of his picture.

Masanobu Takayanagi's camerawork is brilliant in its control and conflux of shading, texture and environment. Marc Streitenfeld's score is awe-inspiring in the impact of its cumulative subtleties. Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffer's script is a lean thing of fury and drive. Carnahan grasps the immensity of his undertaking and relishes every visceral second.

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