MASSIVE GODDAMN GREY SPOILERS AHEAD.
This will be my last article about THE GREY, I promise. But I've been reading the reactions online and in Talkback, and they vary from wildly enthusiastic to genuinely angry. And I definitely have an opinion on why people are upset, and whether or not their anger is justified, but I'll get to that in a minute.
So... you just came out of THE GREY. You saw the commercials, the trailers, and you've read about our coverage here on the site, and maybe you've read other reviews praising the movie. Right now THE GREY is registering Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with a 79% rating. So, you sit down to the movie, ready to see two hours or so of Liam Neeson in the snow fighting wolves with nothing but his badassery, some broken bottles, and his fists.
What you get is a harrowing survival drama, and you find yourself enjoying the acting and the characters. Maybe the wolves are a bit too CGI for your tastes, or maybe you buy into the whole "wolves are a metaphor for death" thing and ride it out. But the whole time, you're waiting... waiting for Liam to kick some canine ass.
So, the end comes. Everyone but Ottway is dead. He's cursed God, we know that his wife is dead, and when Ottway decides, sitting in the snow, that he's going to live, you prepare yourself, because you know that scene in the trailer has to be coming, right? You know the movie is likely going to end with Ottway taking them all on.
Ottway unwittingly enters the wolves' den, and he had no idea that he was leading the men in the wrong direction. The wolves surround Ottway. You're primed. And as Ottway recites the poem his dad wrote, the one great thing he remembers about his father and the conflicted relationship they had, he decides, once and for all, that his life is worth living, and fighting for. This suicidal man decides to live and fight, and even though he's certain to fall, he straps on the glass and prepares. The wolf stares at him, then lunges, and Ottway lunges forward...
And then smash to black. No wolf punching of any kind. The credits begin to roll, and for those of you ready to see some Neeson/wolf action, you realize... wait, that's IT?! Where's the fucking wolf fight? What the hell! You're pissed off. Are you justified in your anger?
First off, I loved the ending. I loved how it lets the audience, or at least the audience willing to roll with the thematic punches, decide for themselves what the ending means. For me personally, I didn't NEED to see Ottway fight the wolves. The whole point of the film is about a man staring death in the eye and having the courage to fight when he knows he won't win. Thematically, the smash cut to black makes complete sense and I think it makes the movie that much richer.
I'm not exactly sure what people expected or wanted - they sat through two hours of an incredibly realistic and harrowing survival movie. People die - some go quietly, some give up, and some die inches from salvation. It's senseless and seemingly random, and it's enough to shake anyone's faith. The key, and point to the film, is that for Ottway, he decides that he wants to live, and at the beginning of the film he's ready to embrace the darkness. This life may be hard, it make not make any sense, and it may be full of loss and grief, but it's his to fight for, dammit, and he will do so knowing full well that he won't make it out. To not try is the real failure. Having Ottway actually fight the wolves seems anticlimactic to me. It's not the point of the movie.
Yet... if you're angry about how the movie ends, because of what you saw in the trailers? Yeah. You have a right to be angry. Absolutely. You see, the trailers promise a completely different movie than what you got. In those trailers, THE GREY is an adventure story, and based on the films we've seen Liam Neeson do in the past few years, it sells the movie as an action vehicle for him. It shows scenes that are blatantly lies. You never see the moment where Ottway runs towards the wolves, fists up, ready to fight. That never happens.
And because it's set up as the centerpiece of the trailer, people are under the misconception that that's the kind of film they're getting. It's directed by the man who made THE A-TEAM and SMOKIN' ACES, after all, so it's possible that his being the director, coupled with the trailers, had audiences anticipating something other than what the movie turned out to be. What THE GREY is is a drama about what it means to be a man when death is coming for you, relentlessly, and how men each come to death differently. It's not an action film in the strictest sense - there isn't even much action in it.
I think much of the marketing for THE GREY has been handled poorly, at least in regards to the trailers. Listen, audiences today are different than in the 1970s or 1980s or even the 1990s. Movies aren't cheap anymore. They cost quite a bit for the average couple to see, and it's an investment of time and money for them. So, yeah, when a trailer promises something in the movie, they expect to get it. Those audiences angry at THE DEVIL INSIDE for copping out on the ending are justified, and I think people relying on the trailers for THE GREY, and angry at how the film ends, well, they can be justified too. If you sell something, like a movie, you should be direct and honest about the movie we're getting. Seeing Liam Neeson run into battle against a bunch of wolves makes for amazing imagery and helps to sell the movie, of course... the goal of those trailers is to get asses in seats and if you saw THE GREY based on those trailers, they were successful. But it's a cheat and it's not fair to the moviegoers.
I hope that you saw THE GREY and loved it like I did, because the larger themes and characters resonated with me and I think it's an important work from Joe Carnahan. It's full of terrific performances from all the actors involved, including Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, and especially Liam Neeson. I hope you can get past the trailers and see what's underneath the surface, and enjoy the film for what it is and not for what it was promised. But if you're mad... yeah. You have a right to be mad. I just hope that you'll get over that and learn to appreciate the movie on what it does do and not for what you thought it might do.
And about that last shot after the credits? It's a nice little treat, but thematically it doesn't register at all. But if you HAVE to know about what happens, yeah, Ottway seemingly wins. But it doesn't mean anything to me - it's just a nice little coda that you can take or leave. It takes nothing away from the larger themes of the movie, and I think that's intended. Take it or leave it.