Getting lost in the freezing cold wilderness with little to no hope of survival is frightening enough, but when the threat of a killer pack of wolves start descending on a group of blue collar workers who just survived a plane crash, the stakes are set even higher. Composer Marc Streitenfeld creates a sonic landscape that is both moving and terrifying, perfectly mirroring the snowy landscape that surrounds these men as they try to survive the elements.
The heavy use of strings and piano are faint enough to keep from overpowering the already intense scenes and performances that make up The Grey, but are still powerful enough to support those moments and help add to the emotional weight of each actor’s striking performances. The Grey also makes an interesting choice in choosing not to turn up the volume or throw in a ton more instrumentation, even when those on screen are running and fighting for their lives. Streitenfeld instead scales back to allow those more natural sounds (and the sound of those ferocious wolves) to take over.
The Grey is about being in those moments that are not simply black and white. There are no easy choices and the performances on screen are really the meat (pardon the pun) of the film. Streitenfeld plays into these moments with a score that does not make any broad statements, instead merely underscoring the emotions on screen. The premise of the film is simple (and summed up as the film’s tag line), “Live or die on this day,” and the music keeps pace with this simplistic idea, even fading into nothingness on tracks like “Last Walk.”
On its own, the music is simply beautiful and within the film it works as a stark contrast to the horror and misery on screen. The strings that come in on the track, “You Are Gonna Die,” are haunting in their melancholy and truly paints the feeling the situation these men are in. While there is no question that these characters are in an awful and horrifying situation, there are moments where their surroundings are so striking in their beauty that even the characters on screen are forced to stop and take it in, with the music working to highlight the sad irony of that reality.
While watching The Grey, the music stood out due to its beauty and was sometimes the only sound accompanying what was happening on screen. Obviously in such an extreme and unpredictable situation, dealing with loss is inevitable and as Ottway (Liam Neeson) ushers a badly injured colleague through his pain, he describes death as being warm and makes it sound almost comforting rather than something to fear. Streitenfeld seems to take a cue from this idea by creating a score that is beautiful and comforting rather than competing with the intensity happening in the film itself. Certainly in the more harrowing moments, the score adds to the fear and anxiety these men are clearly feeling taking the strings from soothing to off-putting on tracks like, “Walking” and “Eyes Glowing.”
The Grey is an interesting concept that explores how one would react (and what those reactions may mean) in such a bleak and intense situation. A film about a group of men “fighting wolves in the snow” may sound silly, but ends up bringing to light some bigger questions that make this narrative an interesting exploration of human temperament. The fact that Streitenfeld created a score that sounds like it could almost have played in a movie about romance set in the Victorian Era adds to this different approach director Joe Carnahan took and how he wanted audiences to perceive and experience his film.
The soundtrack for The Grey is available through Lakeshore Records.
- “Writing the Letter”
- “You Are Gonna Die”
- “Eyes Glowing”
- “The Morning After”
- “Collecting Wallets”
- “Wife Memory”
- “Life and Death”
- “Lagging Behind”
- “Running from Wolves”
- “Daughter Appears”
- “Last Walk”
- “Into the Fray”
All the songs on this soundtrack composed by Marc Streitenfeld