Volume 93, Issue 22

Wednesday, October 6, 1999


Grey Owl a disappointing effort

Pete reheats classic treats

Drive Me Crazy just teenage pap

Grey Owl a disappointing effort

Gazette file photo
DAMMIT HONEY, I'M AN OWL – I'VE SEEN HOOTERS BEFORE. Pierce Brosnan plays the title character in this disappointing account of a legendary Canadian historical figure.

By Chris Theijsmeijer
Gazette Writer

In addition to being one of Canada's most prominent historical figures, the character for which the movie Grey Owl is named was also an extremely enigmatic and controversial individual.

The rich history of his life should make for a great film. Unfortunately, while this recent film adaptation by Sir Richard Attenborough is worth seeing, it doesn't pay full tribute to all of the real Grey Owl's strengths and weaknesses.

The story begins with Pierce Brosnan as Grey Owl, an Ojibwa Indian making his living as a trapper in northern Ontario.

Pony, played by Anne Galipeau, is a young city-bred Iroquois/Mohawk Native American who thrusts her way into his solitary life.

With the help of two adopted beaver pups, she helps Grey Owl obtain a greater appreciation of nature. Grey Owl then abandons trapping forever in favour of trying to protect the disappearing environment. Thus begins the public career of Grey Owl – "the new Hiawatha," author, lecturer and public phenomena.

Unknown to most, he's actually a fraud. His real identity is that of England native Archibald Belaney, who came to Canada as a teenager and lied his way into acceptance as a half-breed native.

As people begin to dig up his past, he is eventually discovered and his new found fame begins to catch up with him. What ensues are some potentially powerful moments which are bungled as a result of some weak storytelling.

It had the potential to be a powerful story. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite capitalize on this potential.

Perhaps the creators wanted to make Belaney less flawed than the original and make him the hero he could have been for the sake of cinematic formula. The reality would have not only been more truthful but would have made for a far more powerful movie.

Basically, the writer has taken out most of the compelling things which made Grey Owl an interesting historical figure. What's left is a highly watered down version of the original.

Oddly enough, Brosnan does well with what he is given and is believable as the regal yet detached Grey Owl, managing to effectively capture his inner torment. He convincingly demonstrates his regret from playing the "Red Indian" to capitalize on the public's interest as it conflicts with sending his message to save the disappearing wilderness.

Galipeau's portrayal of Pony is lacking. Her actions and emotions are contrived and she seems nowhere near tough enough to be surviving out in the wilderness.

While the aforementioned flaws are somewhat balanced by the beautiful scenery and elegant score underlying the film, it's not enough to rescue the movie.

As a portrayal of one of the great figures in Canadian history it's an interesting work – one which is destined to air on The History Channel for years. As a film, however, Grey Owl is far too watery to be the inspiration it could have been.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999