Joe Carnahan‘s The Grey doesn’t open for another 12 days, but I’ll be up to my ears in Sundance starting on Wednesday…okay, it actually begins Thursday…and I’m figuring it can’t hurt to say a few things, at least, because it’s quite a surprise for a Carnahan film. I had him pegged as “over” after the one-two punch of Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team. But The Grey is a complete departure. It’s a good tough film that’s going to sell tickets, I’m guessing, but it’s almost too pure and unsparing to be a big hit.

The Grey is a Jack London survivalist thing. Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo and four other guys vs. hungry CG wolves. I was thinking about the hard terms of London’s “To Build A Fire“. It ends, in a way, like “To Build A Fire”. It doesn’t fool around. This makes it a very significant film for a January release, given that January films tend to be dumpers. Which this is not.

The CG wolves got in the way for me. All CG animals do. Especially one that looked to be the size of one of the Twilight werewolves — i.e., almost as big as a lion. That kind of stuff rips me out of a film. But otherwise it’s solid (well, fairly sold) and hard and honorable. I’m trying to think of a previous instance in which a director started out with a strong, admirable film (i.e., Narc) and then seemed to cash in (if not sell out) and wham…he does a total 180 with a hardcase men-against-the-elements film that no one could accuse of being overtly commercial. And yet it is commercial, if quality means anything to anyone.

That’s all I’m going to say for now. I can post another Grey piece next week sometime.