Do it simple, do it well was a motto for legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather).
This is exactly what director Phillip Borso and his screenwriter, John Hunter, did in 1982 in crafting a simple and quiet story far from the usual approach in Westerns for The Grey Fox. A wonderfully almost peaceful and intelligent western, listed in “Canada’s Top Ten Films of All Time” by the Toronto International Film Festival, The Grey Fox is a little gem.
A Canadian produced film with help from Coppolas’ Zoetrope studios, it tells, based on true events, the story of an aging gentleman stagecoach robber by the name of Bill Miner, the man apparently credited by the Pinkerton people for the creation of the famous hands up! Miner was also renown for his politeness. Fresh out of an American prison, our man is Trying to get on with his life with mixed results. After seeing the early silent version of the film The Great train robbery, at the beginning of the 20th century, he decides to emigrate to Canada in order to become a train robber. That pushes, with Canadian government help, the pinkerton people to pursue him inside Canadian territory.
By doing things simply but well balanced, the director with precious help from cinematographer Frank Tidy’s, who previously shot Ridley Scott’s The Duellists ( he offers some beautiful location lighting) provide the firm ground in which leading man and Stuntman turned actor, Richard Farnsworth (he was nominated for an oscar for performances in Comes a horse man in 1978 and David Lynch’s The straight story in 1999) gives an equally unusual approach to a genuine character in a gentleman fashion that is both refreshing and effective. He is simply awesome. Twice during the ride his character must raise his tone and he is equally convincing. What he is doing on screen is what great acting is about. Simple.
All things quite and simple, but a mighty good film. The Grey Fox is neat. And it is Yours to discover.