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Period detective movie with outstanding craft and style. Albert Fish
was one of the first serial killers to live and die in America in the
early part of the last century. Although he committed crimes beyond
comprehension, his tale was relatively unknown, until now.
The story is based on a solid script with emphasis on plot and character rather than gore and violence. This is not to say that this is a family movie. It just avoids the temptation of gratuitous violence and instead focuses on the human dimensions of the protagonists. The story follows Detective King on his obsessive manhunt as he assembles the clues to establish the killer's identity. At the same time, it attempts to read into the mind of the killer, even portraying a bit of his human side.
There are great performances by Patrick Bauchau (Fish) and Jack Conley (Detective King). In addition, the stars of the movie was the stellar photography by Dave Rudd, and the production design by Jennifer Gentile. Given the modest budget, the film convincingly captures the feel of New York in the 1920s and 1930s. The art department went to great lengths to recreate the slightest period details. And yes, it was shot on actual 35 mm film, in unsurpassed color. A visual feast.
"The Gray Man" is an important addition to the horror genre. Director
Scott Flynn chose to tell the story of Albert Fish, a serial murderer
who is believed to have murdered and cannibalized several young
children in the late 1920s and early 1930s in the environs of New York
City. Fish worked as a handyman and painter in most of the
neighborhoods he lived in, and was seen for the most part as a
relatively inoffensive and grandfatherly individual by many people. In
reality, he is said to have possessed a raging sociopathic pattern that
knew its roots in the harsh treatment he received in state orphanages
run by religious fanatics in the upper boroughs of the city. Flynn's
film gives the viewer a slight background of Fish's character so that
even the most offended audience member can understand Fish's
motivation. The man remains genuinely creepy in depiction, however,
simply due to the deep horror of life that true degeneracy, or "evil",
if you must, rarely has a loud "telegraph". Albert Fish is scary
because he looks like the earnest, hard working sort of character who
you'd hire to repair your furnace.
"The Gray Man" is also a significant work in horror, because it puts to rest the idea that a grisly tale must rely upon grisly depiction in order to unsettle the viewer. Director Flynn has wisely chosen not to graphically re-create the murders, and does not bother with lurid presentations of children being dissected or disposed of as meat. It might seem ridiculous that I would even have to point this out, but anyone who knows contemporary horror understands how little credit all too many Gothic film makers lend the imagination of their public anymore. I don't want to belabor the point, suffice it to say that "The Gray Man" puts films like "Saw" and "Hostel" to shame. Very few things in this life are as terrifying as a child murderer, Flynn and his cast put this true story across without much reliance on the sensational. Why, they even rely on a few little tricks like "atmosphere" here. Imagine that.
Leading the cast is veteran actor Patrick Bauchau, who brings the character of Albert Fish himself a terrifying but not entirely unlikeable quality. His work in this film is a delicately balanced affair that is more effective than that of Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs". Hopkin's performance in that work is outstanding, of course, but it is relatively melodramatic and over- the- top compared to the craft and restraint Bauchau offers here.. Following Bauchau up as the intrepid Missing Persons investigator Will King is Jack Conley, whose world weary demeanor I found very welcome in this age of celluloid depictions of lantern jawed law enforcement officials who always know what to do. Conley's King is a man unsure in his surety, a gumshoe who's likable for the same reasons we like Jake Gittes in "Chinatown" and Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon". He's sort of an anti-bureaucratic bureaucrat.
The other supporting cast members are quite good, most notably the perpetually bemused children of Albert Fish, Gertrude and Albert Jr., who know him alternately as both solid family man and abusive personality. The roles are handled by Mollie Milligan and Silas Mitchell. Jillian Armaneni is powerful as the mother of Grace Budd, the victim of Fish whose disappearance finally put investigators on his trail, and Lexi Ainsworth is very fine as Grace herself. Ben Hall holds his own as Grace's brother Albert, and character actor Bill Flynn has an appearance as the notorious Dr. Frederick Wertham (yes, he of the controversial 1950s anti- comic book crusade) who was a defense witness at the Fish trial as Fish and his crew pleaded insanity.
As for accuracy, who knows? So much has been written about the case that, now, seventy five years after the events themselves, it's even more difficult to separate the folklore from the reality of the moment. Albert Fish has entered that realm of real-life bogeymen with a distinction known by few, so the scuttlebutt will continue to blossom. Be that as it may, "The Gray Man" is a finely crafted, ambitious and riveting horror film, one of the few in the contemporary samples from the genre that is worthy of the time it takes to view it.
A solid thriller about Albert Fish (a very fine performance by Patrick Bauchau), the real life serial killer of children in 1930's America. Fish seemed a harmless old man, but in 1934 he was arrested as the murderer of several missing children he somehow duped their families into leaving him with (using an assumed name throughout). Part character study and part detective procedural, The Gray Man wisely avoids graphic horror and sensationalism (Fish's murders, for instance, are never shown on camera), and while it is rather conventional, it is nevertheless quite chilling nonetheless and it shows a director with a very keen sense of storytelling.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One thing that has always bewildered me about movies portraying true events is the film makers' habit of changing the story to suit their Hollywood vision. This movie did a surprisingly good job of sticking to the facts, however, it still fails to be 100% truthful. For instance, it was not Grace Budd, but her little sister Beatrice who was asked to fetch her brother from his friends house on that first meeting. Fish didn't lay eyes on little Grace until the second visit to the Budds' house at which point he immediately decided to dupe the family into letting him take her away with him. Also, detective King finds a clipping in Fish's rooms saying that the Gaffney boy's corpse was found in a trash bin, but in fact, despite Fish's later confession that he dumped the boys remain in trash dumps, the body was never recovered. One more thing that the movie decided to change, maybe for effect, was Fish's arrest. He did not attack the detectives with a knife, but rather went willingly. These details it chooses to change (as well as a few others) aren't incredibly significant, but why change them at all? Certainly the story of Albert Fish needs no twisting or exaggeration to be one of the most horrific tales in American History. The film is an abbreviated account of years of Fish's criminal history. In addition to making very brief mention of his crimes against Billy Gaffney and Francis McDonnell and focusing mainly (as the media did at the time) on the murder of Grace Budd. It also chose to leave out some of the more unsavory details of his sexual paraphilia, such as his habit of soaking alcohol soaked cotton into his rectum and lighting it on fire, also omitted was his fetish for eating human feces and urine. Perhaps the filmmakers didn't want it to be a stomach-turning horror fest. However, as a crime drama it does just fine. The acting is not spectacular which gives the film a bit of a "made for TV" feeling. But the chronology and main details of the investigation were pretty right on, including many small details and direct quotes taken right out of case files and court room transcription. I would have liked them to spend a bit more time detailing the criminal trial as it was very revealing into Albert Fish's psychopathy. All in all the movie kept me entertained and I was impressed by the inclusion of minor details and the accuracy of the story telling.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Visually, this film is interesting. Light is literally thrown in a way, together with cinematography and an alluring introduction before the titles, that had my hopes up at the start, but then - a b-movie is a b-movie is a b-movie, no matter how much spectacle is seen. This film surrounds the life of Albert Fish, one of the most well-known serial-killers in the world. Active around the start of the 20th century, Fish's life is hastily and blurry dealt with before before he started killing children at an old age. This film is based upon two tracks: Fish's life and that of William F. King, lead investigator of the case. What saves this film from becoming a Hallmark spectacle and debacle of the usual sort, whenever films about serial killers are concerned, is the direction, which is a double-edged sword; director Scott L. Flynn sheds focus enough upon the b-actors not to let their flaws shine through too much, but at the same times created a truly dull and stereotypical view of the American police through the King-angle. Sure enough he dealt quite thoroughly with Fish's meet with Grace Budd, the 10-year-old girl that he killed, even though I'm not really sure if her mother was the media-crazed person that Flynn really tries to emphasise that she was. I miss more psychological diving into Fish, not to mention the very little time which was spent on Fish's post-capture. All in all, interesting for those who are into serial-killers, but mostly a let-down; however, if the director will make another film about another serial-killer, I'd definitely see it in hopes that holes were patched-up.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**SPOILERS** Interesting film about the life times and crimes of one of
America's most notorious serial killers Albert Fish, Patrick Bauchau.
Fish not only murdered his victims he cannibalized them as well which
made him a perfect candidate, when he stood trial, for an insanity
defense that would have saved him a one way trip to the Sing Sing
Being that Fish was actually looking froward to get strapped into the chair, he was reported to say it would be the biggest thrill in his life, he made little if any attempt to defend himself in trying to convince the jury that he was, which was very possible,insane and ended up getting his wish. Fish at age 65 was executed in Sing Sing prison on the morning of January 16, 1936 being one of the oldest persons to be executed in New York State history. For all the crimes that Fish was reported to have committed, that included some half dozen murders, he was tried convicted and executed for the kidnap murder of 12 year-old Grace Budd, Lexi Ainwsorth. It was Fish himself who by sending an anonymous letter to Grace's parents admitting his crime that lead the police to track him down and finally put an end to his reign of terror.
The film "The Gray Man" goes deep into Albert Fish's sick mind in showing how he as a young boy became fascinated with pain, that was inflicted on him at the orphanage he spent his early years in, and how that fascination, that lead to his purposely torturing himself, shaped his entire adult life. Fish also became some kind of religious fanatic who explained away his horrendous crimes in saving his victims, all young children, the pains of either being raped or corrupted in the future!
Like most serial killer Fish,in him being in his 50's and 60's when he committed his crimes, came across as a both sweet and kindly old man to his intended victims, and their family members, that masked the real intentions that he had in store for them. It was Fish's own sense of invincibility, by getting away with his crimes for so long, that in the end did him in. It also took the efforts of New York City Police Detective Will King, Jack Conley, to track Fish down and finally bring him to justice.
Det. King never gave up in trying to find little Grace Budd's murderer when everyone else did. Suffering a serious mental breakdown that landed him in the hospital for weeks Det. King still worked on the Grace Budd murder case, from his hospital bed, until he got the brake that he so long, for some six years, had waited for. And ironically that brake came from Albert Fish himself!
This movie was not exactly what I was expecting. I thought it would be
a more focused character study of Albert Fish - the
kidnapper/murderer/cannibalizer of young children in New York City in
the late 1920's-early 1930's. That angle isn't lost here. The movie
opens with a depiction of Fish as an abused child in an orphanage,
giving some insight into where he developed his sado-masochistic
tendencies, but really this movie focused more on the police
investigation into one case - the kidnapping, murder and cannibalizing
of 10 year old Grace Budd. The Budd case was the one that eventually
brought Fish down, and the movie really revolved around Police
Detective William King, who headed the investigation into Budd's
Fish seems to have been one of the earliest serial killers to prey on young children. The cannibal angle makes the case even more sensational. The movie, thankfully, isn't very graphic, although the details of exactly what was done to young Grace are talked about but not depicted. What we hear is very disturbing. As far as the Budd case is concerned, the movie seems to be a pretty accurate depiction of real events, but really the Budd case is the only one looked at in any detail, even though there were several other child killings that Fish was responsible for.
Patrick Bauchau was pretty convincing as Fish. He captured the part well - the guy was someone we would all think of as crazy, and yet he was sane enough to plan things out pretty methodically. And in a lot of respects he seemed pretty normal and trustworthy - making him even more frightening. Bachau did well. I wasn't entirely taken with Jack Conley as Det. King, and I found the depiction of Grace's mother (Jillian Armanante) to be strange. She was portrayed almost as being more interested in publicity than in her daughter. That may be true (everything else in this seems pretty accurate based on what I've read so I don't know why they writers would make that upon) but it still seems pretty strange to me.
Really, this provides a glimpse into the mind and one crime of a notorious serial killer. A little more depth and insight would have been necessary to make this a truly good movie. (6/10)
Although there's solid performances from the main cast, particularly
Patrick Bacau who plays the notorious Albert Fish, this film seems to
lack something - thus it's left like its title, grey. What could and
should have been an excellent film becomes, because of bad direction, a
lack of character development (the detective in particular is poorly
developed), plus a poor script, an unsatisfying B movie which is at
times tedious and plodding.
Regarding the subject matter, there's too much skipping over of important facts, and the characters are mainly one dimensional clichés. The lack of intimacy in the direction and cinematography - which is perhaps intentional - doesn't work. As a viewer, I'm left not drawn in enough to the characters to really know them, and at times, this left me bored. No time is taken to explore motives of anyone. The film is OK - but that's about it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This isn't a slasher and given the fact that most of Fish's victims
were children, which he sexually molested and cannibalized, that isn't
too surprising a fact. Further evidence of this if needed was the fact
the Chiller channel released this alongside Hitchcock's "Psycho" in a
masters of suspense double bill.
****Here starts the spoilers, in so much that reference will be made to the true story on which this is based and how this was portrayed in this film****
What this is, notwithstanding, is a film that focuses on the murder of Grace Budd and the police investigation that leads to Fish's eventual arrest. Set against the backdrop of the great depression, the film shows the effects such crimes have, not only on the victims and their families, but indeed, the killer and his loved ones as well. It's worth mentioning this, as some of the photography and visuals belie the limited budget of this ambitious period piece. Mention has been made of a train and metal railings that were not to period, but given the budget and location this in itself is laudable and such things were well hidden from anyone but the most perceptive and in my mind no way interferes with the film or the telling of it. Certainly the set decoration and costumer departments did a wonderful job and scenes like the Western Union telegram repository are truly beautiful and evocative.
Shot mostly in Gutherie and Oklahoma City the film does give one the look and feel of Depression-era New York. How they made The local Masonic Lodge look like Grand Central Station is beyond me, but that I guess is where a director's vision becomes very evident in the ability to see that and believably recreate it in such a strange location. An Easter egg in this scene are the flower and sweet sellers, which are the two news anchors for Fox 25, who ran coverage of the filming of the Gray Man under the heading "Okiewood"!!
Drawing from the original letters Fish wrote to his family, lawyer, doctors... and most chillingly, several victims, these and the trial transcripts were handed to the Producers by Fish's trial lawyer and used as source material. Several scenes were also created around photographs of Fish and his family and while this doesn't add anything truly to the overall film, it does speak to the intelligent use by the director and makes for another wonderful Easter egg.
This is one of the films you wish they had made a mini-series of. Plunging into the darkness the film maker holds on the central plot of the abduction and murder of Grace Budd. Given this was an Indie and thus the running time was dictated for commercial showing, it shows several abductions, alluding to the murders if not showing them. It would have been nice to have more and one suspects much had to be left on the cutting room floor. Still what we have is well crafted and accurate.
In a world where we have become desensitized to violence the director goes the intellectual route and crafts suspense and leaves the bad things for your minds eye to create and dwell on. Something I wager which is far scarier. It isn't Disney, it's intelligent and for those that seek blood, gorging on human flesh and excrement this isn't the film for you. Yes these are mentioned or showed in a stylized way that retains the horror sans a Chuckyesque knife- wielding maniac. There is also no teenage sex or pounding rock music to distract you either. Flynn uses Bauchau in the vein of Wells, portraying him as a grandfatherly figure, the demonic is seen in flashes and in a command performance Bauchau's Fish is absolutely chilling.
Further comparison can be had to the old masters in the stylized filming of the Budd scene in which we are introduced to the angelic Grace Budd. In fact throughout, the camera is moved wonderfully and every shot used to support and promote the emotional narrative. In the age of 5 camera lock-offs, jump cuts and CGI, is a film purist's dream.
All in all, this was a film of which I left wanting to see more. While this wasn't a slasher or indeed, a documentary, what it is is a nicely crafted true crime story that is entertaining and makes one talk, think and feel. Overall the acting, camera work and direction were above par, with the jobs done by Bauchau, Flynn and Rudd respectively worth higher praise. The film is in Fincher territory rather than Roth, not that that's a bad or good thing, it just is. While this isn't the full story, we're all going to have to wait for a mini-series to get that. In the mean time color me intrigued and hoping for such an event.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I didn't know much about this Albert Fish until this week. I saw
'Albert Fish: In Sin He Found Redemption' a few days before and even
though that was not a good film, the story remains one that is
haunting, to say the least. I went on reading up on him on the net and
came across this film.
Patrick Bauchau does a very decent job of portraying The Gray Man, but overall I found this to be a mediocre film. The settings, the clothing, the music, it was all nicely done, but somehow something felt amiss. A well worked out storyline perhaps? Beside Fish, the viewer is presented with the primary detective on the case - voice-over included - and his investigation. I found it to be rather boring and cliché and not adding to the story of Fish. Then there were the children of Fish, which made for an interesting angle, but somehow that didn't impress me much either. It all just didn't come together.
I'm glad I've seen this one, and it gets away with a small 6 out of 10, but that's about it. If only David Fincher would take it upon him to make more films about infamous serial killers...
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