Grey Owl

Based on a true story, Grey Owl recounts the life of an English-born environmental activist (real name: Archibald Belaney) who passed for, and achieved quite a bit of celebrity as, a Native American in 1930s Canada. Directed by Richard Attenborough (Gandhi, Chaplin) and starring Pierce Brosnan, Grey Owl may be the most expensive film ever to premiere on video, and Attenborough is certainly one of the biggest directors to suffer the indignity of a small-screen debut. But that doesn't make either the least bit unsuited for the fate. Though far from terrible, Grey Owl suffers from spectacular dullness and surprising stiffness, both of which can be traced to its director: Though surrounded by beautiful stretches of unspoiled wilderness, Attenborough directs the film with a claustrophobia more appropriate to the interior landscapes of Shadowlands. He has an all-too-willing accomplice in his ever-mannered leading man. An Irish actor who's made a career of playing quintessentially English roles, Brosnan, theoretically at least, ought to relate to his character's act of cultural appropriation. Instead, his performance seems as in touch with Native American tradition as bowler hats, hedgerows, and bangers and mash. When not playing Bond, Bronsan has the bad habit of Harlequinizing every film in which he appears, converting projects into cinematic romance novels. It was true of his unconvincing, frequently shirtless work in The Thomas Crown Affair, and it's true of his unconvincing, frequently shirtless work here, particularly when required to melt his steely exterior in the presence of girlfriend Annie Galipeau (Map Of The Human Heart) and a pair of orphaned beaver kits. The film ultimately decides that Grey Owl's message ought to overshadow the man's questionable hoax, but Attenborough and Brosnan never succeed in stirring up interest in the message or the man.

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