A pack of vicious wolves may dominate the trailer for The Grey, but the film is all about Liam Neeson. (Watch the trailer below.) In the new action thriller, the Oscar winner plays John Ottaway, who survives a plane crash in the snowy mountains of Alaska and attempts to lead a band of survivors to safety — fighting off blood-hungry lupines along the way. Critics are pleasantly surprised by the "terrifying" and "suspenseful" flick, calling it as "compelling as they come." Credit for its success is being given, almost unanimously, to Neeson — "a bona fide 59-year-old action hero," who, with recent performances in films like Taken, Unknown, and The A Team, has proven himself more adept in the genre than his younger contemporaries. Is Neeson really that good?
Liam Neeson is Hollywood's best action star: As the leader of a band of frightened, ill-equipped survivors, Neeson leaves absolutely no doubt that he's the man to save them from "the snapping fangs of the wolf pack," says Soren Andersen at The Seattle Times. His winning performance solidifies his status as "the ultimate alpha-male actor in movies today." And his ability to deftly balance "soul-deep anguish" and shattering intensity in one performance is "unmatched by any other Hollywood leading man."
"The Grey: A harshly beautiful, bloody game of man vs. wolves"
Neeson simply brings more to these roles than other actors do: Neeson shines because he elevates these action roles, masterfully expanding them beyond the typical script's cookie-cutter characterization, says Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline. His character in The Grey is saddled with "absurdly macho" dialogue, but Neeson makes the lines surprisingly poetic. He infuses Ottaway with an emotional complexity that "keeps him from becoming a caricature." As he slowly reveals his character's suffering, you can see "the shifts of dusky feeling that play across his face."
"The Grey is a howl of existential pain, with some action thrown in"
But he's squandering his talent: How the mighty have fallen, says Scott Tobias at The A.V. Club. At the top of his game, Neeson brilliantly played sensitive — in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives — and was perfectly cast as the "vengeful urban hero" in Darkman, which "emphasized his intense vulnerability and inner torment." Neeson's recent string of "steely, inscrutable tough guy" roles does not play to his strengths. In The Grey, he sounds like "the hard-bitten narrator of a justly forgotten film noir." What a waste.