Review by Sean Boelman
Being re-released with an absolutely gorgeous restoration from the folks at Kino Lorber, The Grey Fox is an understated and thoughtful Western. A nuanced look at the psychology of crime, Phillip Borsos’s 1982 film doesn’t cover much new ground, but it does so in a way that is consistently interesting.
The movie tells the story of a stagecoach robber at the turn of the 20th century who, after recently being released from prison, decides to go to Canada to become a train robber. The film was released after the revisionist Western genre had already peaked, and yet it feels like an essential addition to the genre given its honest perspective.
Much like Bonnie and Clyde and other movies that focus on a criminal as their protagonist, this film doesn’t glorify his actions, but rather, takes an ethically grey stance on the character. Unlike early Westerns, the robber characters aren’t pure evil, but rather, people who are drawn to a life of crime out of desperation or something else.
What makes the gentleman robber here so interesting is that he treats crime almost as if it was a sport. He’s drawn to the thrill of crime because it keeps him from feeling his age. Having wasted away much of his life in prison, the character needs to feel something, and the only way he can do it is by breaking the rules. A lot can be gleaned about the way society treats released convicts through this story.
The late Richard Farnsworth gives an amazing performance in his lead role. When the movie was initially released, he received numerous accolades including a Golden Globe nomination, and it is completely understandable why. He brings an uncanny amount of humanity and empathy to a character that is insanely difficult to make sympathetic.
The pacing of the film will certainly defy the expectations of audiences who are used to the more action-oriented sensibilities of most American Westerns. This movie is more of a pleasant drama, rooted in the character’s emotional experiences rather than gunshots. There are some action sequences, but they cater more to the plot than anything else.
Visually, the film is absolutely phenomenal. The cinematography is beautiful, taking advantage of the picturesque Canadian settings (some of which supposedly have not been otherwise seen in a motion picture). Of course, credit should also be given to the restorationists who did some amazing work as always giving the camera even more life than before.
This restoration of The Grey Fox is a rare treat: a time capsule unearthed after years that still feels as wonderful now as it would have back then. For fans of Westerns, this is an absolute must-watch.
The Grey Fox is now streaming in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.