Say what you like about damp squibs like A Chorus Line and - - shudder - - In Love And War, but Santa-lookalikee Richard Attenborough has a more than respectable directorial CV. Struggling for years to bring Gandhi to the screen earned him much well-deserved luvvie backslapping. Even if more recent efforts like Cry Freedom, Shadowlands and Chaplin have lacked its sheer scope, they've at least bagged plaudits for their leading players. Even on a bad day, Attenborough's proved able to coax career-best performances from a wide variety of actors. All of which only makes a lacklustre effort like Grey Owl more disappointing.
There's some lovely cinematography, but while the backgrounds are beautiful, the foregrounds are deeply uninvolving. The true story of Grey Owl's life is treated with such reverence by all concerned that nobody seems willing to inject any punch into events. There are neon-lit potential high and low spots - some deaths, a growing love story involving Native American girl Anahareo (Annie Galipeau) and even a moment of life-changing epiphany - but there are no changes of pace or atmosphere to bring them to the fore. Even the revelation of Grey Owl's secret, the single core point of the entire story, is masked by flat, one-note film-making.
Even allowed emotional full-rein, there's little Pierce Brosnan could have done to save things. Casting a big name probably made getting the finance a tad easier, but how could anyone mistake the blue-eyed Irishman for even a half-cast American? Suspension of disbelief goes out of the window when the other characters are all fooled by the sight of 007 in shaggy wig and mocassins.
Films that ruthlessly press emotional buttons can irritate, but at least theyget a response out of audiences. The only response the cotton-wrapped passions on display here deserve is yawns.