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1 item from 1999

Film review: 'Grey Owl' True-life 'Grey Owl' Gets Lost in Woods / But potential unrealized in Attenborough's bio of the 1930s outdoorsman

16 November 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

FORT LAUDERDALE -- Richard Attenborough, who has concentrated largely on true-life biographical dramas during his directing career, has chosen one of his more quirky and intriguing subjects with his latest effort, about a famous 1930s Canadian half-breed Indian trapper, hunter, writer and environmentalist who, it was revealed after his death, was actually a full Englishman.

Although "Grey Owl" ultimately fails to fully mine the myriad possible resonances of its often fascinating tale, it is always an interesting and beautifully crafted film that deserves to be seen. Recently released in Canada, it is still awaiting U.S. distribution, despite having Pierce Brosnan in the starring role. The film recently served as the opening-night attraction at the 14th Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) International Film Festival.

The story, told in flashback, begins with the title character being confronted by a reporter about his identity as he is about to make one of his celebrated live appearances. It seems that several years earlier, Grey Owl was a trapper and hunter content to live an isolated experience in the rugged terrain of Northern Ontario. His life changes with the arrival of Anahareo, or Pony (Annie Galipeau), a beautiful young Mohawk who desperately wants him to acquaint her with traditional Indian ways. Although highly resistant at first, Grey Owl falls victim to her charms, and soon the pair are living together, their romantic bond sealed when he dramatically rescues her after a scary plunge into an icy lake.

Although Grey Owl has spent his life killing animals, he has a sudden epiphany, thanks to the tenderhearted Pony and the arrival of an adorable pair of baby beavers, orphaned thanks to one of his traps. Soon, the reticent Indian, who has previously dabbled in magazine writing, changes his life completely, devoting himself to championing the preservation of the environment and becoming a best-selling author. Dubbed a "modern Hiawatha," Grey Owl becomes a literary sensation and the best-known Indian in the world. But, as the film ultimately reveals, he is not an Indian at all, but rather Archie Belaney, an Englishman who was raised by his two loving aunts and decided to remake himself and assume a completely new identity.

His secret was not revealed until after his death in 1938.

Although there are some beautifully written scenes, such as the ineffably touching reunion between Archie and his now elderly aunts, the screenplay by William Nicholson ("Shadowlands") doesn't fully convey all of the complexities of this curious story. And its concentration on the love affair between Grey Owl and Pony is a bit of a miscalculation, especially since Galipeau, lovely as she is, isn't quite up to carrying so much of the film. But Attenborough is certainly successful in depicting the details of Grey Owl's lifestyle and the beauty of the landscape he worked so hard to preserve, and Roger Pratt's widescreen lensing of the rugged locations is consistently gorgeous.

Brosnan takes more than a little getting used to as the title character, though his performance, if not his physicality, is ultimately quite credible. It's hard not to think, though, that the actor was cast more for his international boxoffice appeal than for his suitability. Galipeau tries hard and brings a lissome physicality to her role, but her limited acting abilities and irritating vocal inflections prove distracting.


Largo Entertainment

Credits: Director: Richard Attenborough; Screenplay: William Nicholson; Producers:Richard Attenborough, Jake Eberts, Claude Leger; Co-producer: Diana Hawkins; Executive producer: Lenny Young; Director of photography: Roger Pratt; Production designer: Anthony Pratt; Editor: Lesley Walker; Music: George Fenton. Cast: Grey Owl/Archie Belaney: Pierce Brosnan; Anahareo (Pony): Annie Galipeau; Ned White Bear: Nathaniel Arcand; Walter Perry: Charles Powell; Ada Belaney: Stephanie Cole; Carrie Belaney: Renee Asherson. MPAA rating: PG-13. Color/stereo. Running time -- 115 minutes.


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1 item from 1999

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