Exterior Films // 2010 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 6th, 2011
Three Guys Struggle with Death...Youth's Second Act
A trio of best friends -- fraught thespian Joey (Gavin Bristol, Twilight), recovering addict Jonah (Morgan Lee, Wage Slaves) and Afghanistan war vet Christian (Ian McMilan, Leverage) -- find themselves back in Oregon to mourn the loss of their buddy, Gavin (Jesse Henderson, Restless). Gavin is the victim of an apparent overdose, and his death hits them particularly hard. It's a reflection of the lack of priorities and progress in their own lives. As a direct result of such denial, over the course of a couple of days they decide that their pal was, perhaps, the victim of foul play, and go about trying to prove it. As they deal with their own grief, their sense of loss and unfocused purpose, and the flaws that keep them from moving forward (dependency, promiscuity, a sense of entitlement), they plot revenge against those who may have wronged their buddy, planting the seeds of their own demise -- and possible rebirth (?) -- in the process.
The Gray Area is a good little indie flick. It's all talk and a bit of action bravado, but not much else. It offers nuanced performances, a passable script, and some stellar direction by Chapin Hemmingway (love that name!). This fledgling filmmaker has a wonderful way with the local color of Oregon, gets better-than-average work out of his amateur cast, and really can't complain about how polished his lo-fi effort looks and feels. Sure, you can pick out the many flaws here with an oversized set of tweezers and not everyone is going to find these lads inviting, but for the most part, this movie works. It's a decent drama that finds its fascination in the way we mature. It draws conclusions about the choices we make in life and laments the lack of clearer vision once the big picture issues (life, death, self-preservation, self-destruction) come into view. While far from a masterwork, this is still a wonderful resume reel for all involved. Hemmingway may think he's struck gold, but The Gray Area is more pyrite than perfect.
As for the DVD presentation, there's little to complain about. The 2.33:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks great, especially when you consider the limited resources involved. The colors are solid, the compositions complete and well contrasted. In addition, the basic filmmaking elements are all there -- interesting shot selection, choice editing, and the all-around look of a mainstream movie. On the sound side of things, there is some minor drop out during a couple of scenes, and a real lack of balance between dialogue and background ambience, but all in all, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix is acceptable. As for added content, we get two engaging commentaries (one from Hemmingway and his producers, another from Hemmingway and his cinematographer) and both are excellent in addressing different aspects of the shoot. In addition, we get a nice theatrical trailer that does a decent job of selling the film itself.
Sometimes when a small movie strives to stay within its anticipated spaces, something special comes along. The Gray Area may not be flawless, but it is a thoughtful, engaging effort.
Not guilty. A minor indie jewel.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Exterior Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site