| This adventure drama goes beyond the survival instinct and truly defines the essence of being human with a lifetime of memories.
World class actor Liam Neeson (“Taken” and “Schindler’s List”) reunites with “The A-Team” (2010) director Joe Carnahan (“Narc”) in a life-or-death struggle battling the elements and a den of ferocious wolves in the Alaskan wilderness.
The look and feel of this movie is so realistic that you may find yourself shivering in your seat and enveloped by fear.
Irishman John Ottway (Neeson) is a lonely soul working for a petroleum company at a remote oil refinery as a sharpshooter in charge of protecting the employees from wild beasts.
In narration, he discloses his inner thoughts while writing a letter to his wife (Anne Openshaw).
After witnessing a bar fight, he goes outside in a depressed state. The next day he boards a 737 flying to Anchorage with a motley group of misfits returning to civilization for some much needed rest and relaxation.
The plane experiences lots of turbulence and then crashes in the middle of nowhere.
Ottway wakes up on the ground covered with snow. The sound of the wind blowing cuts through the eerie silence.
He starts walking. He sees the plane wreckage and lots of blood. There are seven other passengers still alive.
Rather than staying put and freezing to death, Ottway takes charge and encourages the survivors to start walking to safer ground.
The remainder of the movie shows the futile efforts made by these unlucky victims to stay alive.
It becomes a painful and arduous task to sit through the nearly two hour running time. By the last 30 minutes, you’ve had enough already of their various demises as the point of no return is reached.
The movie relies more on dialogue than action as we get to know the characters. Despite their dire circumstances, they can still laugh and reminisce about their loved ones.
Philosophical musings about faith and a belief in God are brought up as they sit around a fire attempting to stay warm and ward off the predatory carnivores.
Ottway recalls his childhood and the following poem written by his father is a perfect summation of this film.
“Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. To live or die on this day.”
This is one of Neeson’s better performances on film and worthy of awards consideration.
The nearly unrecognizable supporting cast includes Dermot Mulroney (“The Family Stone” and “About Schmidt”), Frank Grillo (“Warrior”), Dallas Roberts (“Rubicon” and “A Home at the End of the World”) and James Badge Dale (“Rubicon” and “The Pacific”). They each get moments to shine and show off their dramatic chops.
The filmmakers made the astute decision to shoot last winter on location in Smithers, British Columbia, Canada. The very low visibility, knee-deep snow drifts, roaring wind and desolation make for a foreboding background. This same rugged terrain on the side of a mountain was the setting for “Eight Below” (2006).
Live wolves appear in the bulk of the film with minimal use of CGI and animatronic puppets. We hear their scary howling and feel their deadly presence more often than see them in the flesh. A scene beginning with a pair of glowing eyes is unforgettable.
The cinematography is spectacular, especially the scenes inside the airplane during the crash sequence. This is one movie where the handheld camera is used effectively.
The production design of the disassembled plane and the attendant wreckage is top drawer.
Other strengths include the lighting, facial close-ups, makeup and sound effects.
The screenplay by Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers is based on Jeffers’ short story “Ghost Walker.”
You may want to remain seated through the closing credits for a final scene tacked on to the ambiguous ending.
This harrowing survival tale should bring to mind similar genre films such as “Deliverance,” “Man in the Wilderness” and “Flight of the Phoenix.”
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"