Gloomy but effective, “The Grey” (wide release) is a survival story that packs a punch so long as it concentrates on deeds rather than words.
Returning to the lower 48 from a stint in the remote Alaskan tundra, a planeload of oil workers crashes in the wilderness and only a handful survive. As they make their way through the snow-swept landscape, they come under attack by a pack of ravenous timber wolves, and their number is gradually reduced.
Liam Neeson gives one of his strongest performances in some time as the brooding leader of the group, a marksman whose experience proves invaluable to their chances.
And director Joe Carnahan proves skilled at choreographing the action scenes: The plane crash is harrowing, and a sequence in which the men have to cross a deep gorge by sliding along an impromptu rope is literally breathtaking.
Unfortunately, the picture stumbles whenever the survivors pause to talk about themselves around the campfire. Most of the characters are stereotypes, and they speak in cliches. Happily, they must soon rouse themselves and resume their trek, and as they do the film regains its footing as well.
Though “The Grey” may be uneven, its strengths outweigh the weaknesses.
“Man on a Ledge”
The title “Man on a Ledge” (wide release) seems to promise a simple story, but before long the screenplay morphs into something far more complicated. It turns out that the presence of the titular fellow – a cop wrongly imprisoned for stealing a priceless diamond – on the side of a high-rise New York hotel is merely a diversion to conceal a break-in that will prove his innocence.
Sadly, as it becomes more convoluted, the plot grows increasingly ludicrous, and the heist side of things gets as outrageous as anything in “Mission Impossible.” It doesn’t help that Ed Harris plays the nasty tycoon who’d framed the hero so broadly that he really ought to have been outfitted with a moustache to twirl.
By the time the picture winds its way to an utterly absurd conclusion, you might feel inclined to join with the nastier onlookers on the street below and yell, “Jump, already!”
Glenn Close takes on a difficult role in “Albert Nobbs” (Angelika). She plays a woman who pretends to be a male butler in a small hotel in 19th-century England. Nobbs, as she calls herself, is a tightly controlled servant hiding her gender beneath an impassive exterior.
The picture is clearly designed as a parable of how women have been marginalized by society throughout history. And in that respect it’s interesting, if obvious, largely because Close inhabits her role so intensely.
But the plot takes an unhappy turn when Nobbs, encouraged by the example of another male impersonator – played in more extroverted fashion by Janet McTeer, who like Close is nominated for an Oscar – dreams not only of buying a shop but of living above it in a feigned marriage with another lonely woman. That leads her to romancing – quite properly, of course – one of the hotel’s maids, who’s encouraged by her loutish boyfriend to take prim Nobbs for everything she can before dumping him.
The tragic handwriting is on the wall, and the inevitable occurs as the picture works its way solemnly to its preordained end.
One can respect “Albert Nobbs,” but in the end, despite Close’s commitment, it ends up seeming both implausible and oddly unaffecting.
“One for the Money”
Janet Evanovich’s novels about Stephanie Plum – a woman who becomes a skip tracer for her bail-bondsman cousin – apparently have a wide following, but the screen version of the first of them, “One for the Money” (wide release), suggests that a movie franchise is not in the offing.
Katherine Heigl stars, bringing her customary spunk to the lead. But apart from Daniel Sunjata, who has a touch of charisma to the veteran tracer who gives her pointers, the supporting cast is mediocre – including Debbie Reynolds, who mugs her way through the part of Plum’s tart-talking grandmother.
More importantly, the mixture of crime thriller, romance and sitcom in the narrative about the heroine’s attempt to track down a cop accused of murder never gels.
“One for the Money” winds up a tonally maladroit mistake.