Directed by:Joe Carnahan
Action director Joe Carnahan, (The A Team, Smokin’ Aces) made his mark a decade ago with Narc, a gritty examination of street level drug dealer-users and the frequently indistinguishable cops tasked with arresting them. There was a hint of intellect mixed into the brawn of that film which all but disappeared in his subsequent work. Now comes this nerve-wracking survival story about an octet of working stiffs struggling to survive a plane crash in Alaska’s frigid vastness.
Liam Neeson plays Ottway , (no one here has two names) a marksman hired by an oil pipeline company to shoot any predatory wildlife that might threaten its workers. When he and some of his fellow employees survive a devastating crash, Ottway’s knowledge of the outdoors makes him the natural leader for the task for reaching safety, which requires not only adapting to the brutal realities of an Alaskan winter, but also coping with a pack of rapaciously hungry grey wolves.
In Carnahan’s screenplay, (co-written with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers from latter’s novella) our northern-most state becomes a stand-in for the ocean in Hitchcock’s 1944 classic, Lifeboat; Ottway’s ragged band grapple with the same issues of scarcity and dissention so it’s only a matter of time before the vagaries of survival in an extremely hostile environment begin to take their toll…</p>
Carnahan’s films are punctuated with rapidly edited action sequences which combine sound effects and deliberately fractured camera shots to generate a sense of chaos - - and he puts those skills to superb use here in conveying the terror of the plane crash and the survivor’s terrifying encounters with their stealthy adversaries. But the director’s after something more here - - and that turns out to be nothing less than an examination of the meaning of life.
As each of Ottway’s fellow survivors describes what drives them in their hopelessly mismatched battle with nature, the audience receives an often-simplistic view of personal motivations; the egocentric desire to continue life’s basic pleasures, the duty one owes to family, the acceptance of the mysterious ways of God, and of course, a character who embodies Nietzsche’s insistence that God is dead, which brings the film to its somber climax with a fittingly choreographed version of Brendan Behan’s famous admonition not to “go gently into that dark night”.
In the end, Carnahan’s capacity to fill the screen with furious action makes the musings of his blue-collar characters (a recognizable group of B-list actors) largely irrelevant. They lend the script’s lines much-needed credibility, but it’s too bad the thoughts expressed therein don’t keep up their end of the philosophical bargain....
The Verdict? Smashing cinematography, punctuated with brilliantly executed action sequences offering some authentically scary moments – but this one runs out of steam as it drifts to its existential conclusion.
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