*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD* Do not read if you do not want to know the ending to “The Grey.”
Although the buzz had been building on Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey” since audiences first saw Liam Neeson affixing broken mini-bottles to his fists at the end of the thriller’s first teaser trailer, and subsequently corroborated by widespread approval at the film’s first screening at Harry Knowles’ Butt-Numb-a-Thon in Austin, there was skepticism that the film would be a hit, especially amongst critics who had seen it in advance.
This wasn’t for lack of quality, as the high scores on aggregators such as Rotten Tomatoes attest, but “The Grey,” in the words of its director, “wasn’t a pedal to the metal affair” and had the potential to disappoint audiences expecting a high-octane Liam Neeson wolfpunching extravaganza, particularly given the trailer’s money shot.
Anyone who’s now seen “The Grey” knows that scene from the very end of the trailer comes at the very end of the film with no wolf fight actually shown, though Carnahan recently said during a Q & A at an early screening of the film at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica that while he never planned to use it, he did film a scene where Neeson takes on the wolf.
“Listen, I’ll put it in the deleted scenes,” Carnahan told the audience, who was applauded for keeping the ending as currently consituted. “We did a version where he fights the alpha [wolf] and I just thought, the worst thing you could do is get a movie that you feel like ‘God, this movie really works and at the very end you blow it because you wanted to show a guy fighting a wolf.’”
Co-star Frank Grillo teased him by saying, “When you say it, it sounds so dumb,” to which Carnahan replied, “I know, it’s like [in a gruff tone] ‘I’m going to get you, wolf.’ ‘No, I’m going to get you, guy, let’s go.’ Even when I say it, I sound like an asshole.”
Carnahan’s bigger concern was whether audiences stayed until after the credits to see a scene that hints at how that battle played out, asking the crowd what they thought they saw and confirming their suspicions as well adding that the piece of paper in Neeson’s hand wasn’t a letter to his wife, but more likely a suicide note. During the Q & A, Carnahan also explained that the poem Neeson’s Ottway recites was not in the original Ian Mackenzie Jeffers short story the film is based on, but that he created a backstory for Ottway’s father who he believed “loved the Bard, so he would’ve loved ‘Henry V’ [and the quote] ‘Once again unto the breach,’ so he got drunk one night and he wanted to take a shot at that and liked it so much he typed it up.” Of course, the last stanza of the poem became the tagline for the film’s poster and like the trailer, had to be modified to better sell the film.
“I quite like the way [the film] wraps up with that,” said Carnahan. “You’ll notice they changed [it on the poster to] “Live or die on this day” instead of “And”… Live and Die on this day” because the marketing people said, “We can’t tell them he’s going to die. Not yet.”
Still, the confidence in the downbeat ending grew after the film had a test screening in Woodland Hills in November. We’ll let Carnahan tell the story:
“We had a series of conversations [about it]. I had a really smart group of guys in the cutting room with me and we all recognized the wallets [which Ottway collects from each of the men after they pass] was the emotional climax of the film. Anything that went past that would almost feel superfluous and unnecessary.
So we had a test screening and they polled this focus group afterwards and this group of guys was like, ‘The whole movie is building up to this fight and I want to see this fight with these guys. How come you didn’t show the fight? We all wanted to see the fight!’ They were all really pissed off. ‘I hate the movie because you didn’t show us the fight.’ So the moderator says, “Okay, that’s fair. Well, let’s see a show of hands. If you saw this movie on a Friday, would you talk about it on Saturday?” All their hands go up. “Okay, well, let’s go a little further. If you saw the movie on a Friday, on Monday morning would you talk about it?” All their hands go up. I thought well, there it is right there. Whatever your extraction, whatever you take from it, hopefully you guys like that ending because beyond that little bump at the very end, I feel like the story concluded there.”
Since it is Monday morning and we are still talking about it, we can’t argue with that.
Would you have preferred to have actually seen Liam Neeson beat up some wolves or do you like the ending as is? Let us know in the comments below.