The Gray Man (2007)
Director: Scott L. Flynn
Cast: Patrick Bauchau, Jack Conley, John Aylward
Synopsis: Obsessive manhunt to identify and capture a despicable serial killer.
I was quite surprised by the fact that I hadn’t heard of either Albert Fish or this film before watching it, even though his crimes were carried out on the other side of the pond more than eighty years ago. Given the nature of his crimes — abducting and cannibalising young girls — it’s unusual that he isn’t better known. And while this film might not quite deliver as compelling an interpretation of his story as it might have done, it also deserves to be more widely seen.
Character actor Patrick Bauchau earns a rare leading role as Fish, a seemingly kindly old man whose avuncular appearance hides a cold and brutal compulsion to kill, his murderous impulses irrevocably shaped by abuses heaped on him when he was a child. To its merit, the film takes pains to avoid sensationalising its subject matter — none of the murders are shown, and first-time director Scott L. Flynn works hard at creating an atmosphere of dread as we see Fish closing in on his prey with a disarming charm completely at odds with the disturbed, self-flagellating mess we know him to be.
The relative inexperience of the director and writers means the film falls down on some counts. While it looks good — despite a minuscule budget — and even the minor characters are well-cast, it never quite manages to provide the insight a truly effective movie might have achieved, due possibly to the fact that focus is divided between Fish and the cop investigating the case who becomes so obsessed with it that he suffers a nervous breakdown. Ten minutes into the film, after it seems that the film will be solely focused on Fish, we’re surprised by a first-person narration from the police detective that just doesn’t work.
Nevertheless, this is a thoughtfully produced little movie that at least attempts to provide an intelligent presentation of the story of Albert Fish.