Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index

GREY OWL

Directed by Richard Attenborough (1999, Remstar Distribution)
Starring Pierce Brosnan, and Annie Galipeau

A native Canadian falls in love and professes conservation of our wildlife to a young nation.

 

 

D++

May 14th, 2001 on Video

 
    Extremely slow almost entirely throughout, but the story was delicate and moving at times. The acting was not great, but improved steadily until near the end, when it was quite decent.

I knew a little of the story of Grey Owl before seeing this movie, thus my desire to see the story. For the first half, I nearly regretted it, because the movie moves so verrrrrrrryyyyyyyy sllllloooowwwwwwlllly.... Combine that with mainly poor acting (well, nothing standout, anyway), and I wondered how this movie could be critically acclaimed at all. 

Once we get into the woods and Archie Grey Owl finally expressed his love for Pony (Anahareo), things move a little better. They slow down once he reaches Saskatchewan, but the pace picks up nicely again in England. The best part was the climax, at the Pow Wow, where the chief he speaks to seems to know his secret, but tells him that "people become their dreams... you have dreamed well."

Pierce Brosnan played the character as very detached, very self-absorbed, very much a loner. Unfortunately, it was not very interesting. Especially in light of his desire for attention, and later his transformation into a public speaker (a very good one, at that). When Pony mentions, very much in love and in awe at what she has read in his first published book "you said that I was your wife", we think it can only lead to a proposal. However, he just says, without any emotion at all, that any other arrangement would have made readers uncomfortable.

Brosnan is at his best when he's worried. He leads Pony (unwillingly, it seems) on a long trek to the fur traps (I believe), but when she falls through the ice of a small lake, his passion takes over. He runs back, in a bold panic, pulls her out (realistically), and forces her to run around, holding off frostbite. He then races her back to their home, puts the fire on, and cuddles her until she's warm. At that point, we know he wants her. Unfortunately, he doesn't show it again until the very end.

The second passionate moment, where Brosnan does an amazing job, is when he tries to rescue one of Pony's beavers. Archie and her found two beaver cubs alone and dying after their mother was killed in Archie's trap. Pony takes them in against Archie's will, and they both grow to love these creatures, although Archie never admits it. Then, one day one of the beavers wanders off. Archie is afraid that he has run into one of the traps that litter the forest around them. He goes running off, snapping trap after trap, relieved that none of them have been sprung. As he nears one of the traps, however, he hears the very human sound of a beaver cub, and sees it waddling toward the trap. He races forward, but is not fast enough to save the cub. He is grief-stricken! The pain is totally apparent all over his body as he walks out of the forest up toward their home. And when Pony walks out of their house saying that the cub wandered back on its own, she sees him carrying the dead cub from the trap. Her love just blossoms as she sees the anguish and relief on his face, seeing that he thought one of her cubs had been killed. The two of them played the scene just perfectly. It was extremely touching.

The beavers play a large part in the middle of the film. They help Archie make his first public speech, and they capture the public's imagination. They are so darn cute! Finally, they help Archie get a "job" as a park ranger in a new national park in Saskatchewan. But he is not happy there. Tourists come to see him, and his nature is always being disturbed. He gets a book published, and takes a tour to England, where he dazzles audiences with the description of the Canadian wilderness, urging them to protect it, especially the beaver. He was an environmentalist before his time.

When he gets back, he is not sure Pony will be waiting for him. But she is, and he realizes that he has to tell her his big secret. This was revealed to us earlier in the film, when he goes to visit his aunts in London. He had no Native blood (still called Indian back in the 1930s). He is a complete and total fake. But she loves him anyway, and they go to the Pow Wow, where I believe the Chief he speaks to knows immediately that he is not one of theirs, but accepts him anyway, because he has done a lot for the cause of the various tribes. I do wonder if all those tribes would have come together in a Pow Wow, though, as some were mortal enemies before White Man came. I don't know enough about the time period, though. Perhaps the differences had been set aside by then.

The Scotsman who recognizes Archie I believe to be a symbol, and not a real man. He was a way for the North Bay reporter to find out the truth about Grey Owl. He agreed to hold the story until Grey Owl's death, out of respect for his cause, but once the true heritage was revealed, all that Archie had worked for was discarded by the public because he was a fake. But he was not a real fake -he became a Native, adopted by the tribes and by the forest. 

The scenery was beautiful, and I wonder where it was filmed, exactly. I believe it was Ontario's Muskoka region, which I will be visiting this summer. The steam train was filmed in Wakefield, Quebec, essentially my backyard (Ottawa), and I took a ride on that train a couple of years ago, which was neat. 

Unfortunately, the brief moments of passion and beauty of nature (not to mention the very cute beavers) were not enough to bring this movie up to a very enjoyable level. It was so slow that I found myself looking at my watch throughout, which is not a good sign. But the material was quite decent. I just wish the acting had been as constant as the beauty of nature. Pony spoke with a French-Canadian accent, which is acceptable, I suppose, since she speaks of growing up in Val d'Or, and it made her seem exotic enough to play a Native. However, until she adopts the beavers, she seemed very uncomfortable in her role. I have already mentioned Brosnan, and the other actors barely had anything to do or say in this movie. 

Enjoyable for the scenery, mostly, and the idea that environmentalism isn't something that we dreamed up in the late 1980s, this movie falls short in its presentation. The director tried to let the story unfold on its own, but the material is just too weak to do that.
 
   

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