Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC.

He is an editor at The Comeback, MLB columnist for The Outside Corner, associate editor at Awful Announcing and managing editor for The AP Party

Previously, he has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, and SB Nation. In addition, he was a lead baseball writer for Bleacher Report. 

You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook, where he craves your attention.

Someday, he'll get around to writing that novel.

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Movie review: The Grey

If I was a filmmaker, I imagine it would drive me crazy if the marketing for one of my movies misled audiences, with trailers and TV ads giving people the impression they might be seeing something different from what was actually made.

So when The Grey was being sold as a man vs. animal, man vs. nature drama, I wonder if Joe Carnahan was grinding his teeth a bit. Maybe not, because this movie is indeed about those conflicts. (Plus, it finished No. 1 at the box office last weekend, so he's probably cool with it all.) The characters battle sub-zero temperatures, roaring winds and thigh-high snow. And then, there are those big, bad wolves, ready to tear up some people for meal and sport.

But maybe you've also been reading that The Grey goes a bit deeper than that. This gets downright existential.

Working on an oil pipeline in remote Alaska, marooned from family and friends, with getting drunk at the on-site bar the only means of recreation, would probably push anyone to the brink of insanity. But Liam Neeson's character, Ottway, is on the brink of something else when we first see him. He's deeply unhappy, presumably over missing his wife.

We don't know why the two are apart. Did she not like him leaving for Alaska and being gone for who knows how long? Did he go to Alaska because his life had fallen apart back home? Is he the detached, aloof sort of personality that's better suited to solitude? Just a man and his rifle, off in the distance, deriving some sense of purpose out of picking off the wolves that might attack the pipeline workers?


Ottway seems to find another purpose after the plane carrying him and his colleagues crashes onto an isolated arctic tundra with nothing around but snow, more snow and at least half a dozen hungry wolves. He wants to survive, and help as many fellow castaways as he can.

That help doesn't always exclusively apply to survival, either. In one of the film's more memorable scenes, Ottway helps comfort someone who is near death, making sure he's not alone and thinks about what's meaningful to him in his final moments.

But what makes The Grey truly compelling is that it questions the very nature of survival.

What is it about your life that makes it worth living? Is it the people you love? Is it the sense that you haven't accomplished everything you've wanted to? Is it the fear of death? Is it simply ego? And just how hard are you willing to fight for those things when circumstances push you to your absolute limit? Faced with an uncertain outcome and seemingly insurmountable adversity, would you just give up? Or would you take the struggle head-on, even to the very end?

Even more intriguing to me was that the movie is willing to challenge the concept of faith. As one of the character says, why would God — if there is one — allow these people to survive the plane crash, only to then let them die in the wilderness? How important is faith? And does it have to be earned, rather than just accepted? 

Of course, you can't really sell any of that in a trailer or commercial. Action and suspense is what's going to bring the people to the theater. But The Grey provides plenty of those things, too. It's not entirely ponderous and philosophical.The characters don't sit around and talk about this stuff through the whole movie. It's actually more up to the viewer to ponder these questions as they're watching, leaving the theater, or writing blog posts.)

It's just gratifying to have those sorts of themes weaved in with the main narrative. And as strange as this might sound, I was happy for Carnahan for getting to make a movie like this. In someone else's hands, this might have been all about man vs. wolf or some kind of survivalist porn, especially as Neeson has developed into an unlikely action hero late in his career.

Carnahan looked like a very promising director after Narc, but maybe the system beat him down a bit as he tried to get movies like White Jazz and Killing Pablo made. Instead, he had to make overly stylish crime movies like Smokin' Aces or messy attempts at blockbusters like The A-Team just to stay afloat. 

Of course, it's entirely possible that those projects scratched a creative itch and made him a better director. Perhaps The Grey is the result of that. I hope so, because I'm eager to see what he does next. (Reports have him doing a remake of Death Wish.) Maybe he'll have to alternate films he wants to do with films he has to do. But it's becoming increasingly clear which of those movies are better.  

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