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The Gray Area


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Editorial Reviews

Review

Once upon a time, the words "local film production" conjured expectations of blurry hand-held camera shots, muffled dialogue and a storyline that made sense only to the filmmakers. Technological advances, though, have made movies such as "The Gray Area" possible. A sleek, crisp, well-constructed drama shot in Portland for $40,000, it's an implicit rebuke to every filmmaker who tries to equate sloppiness and authenticity. The screenplay, co-written by director Chapin Hemmingway and producer Tyson Balcomb, doesn't exactly break new ground. Aspiring actor Joey (Gavin Bristol) returns from Los Angeles after a friend's fatal overdose, reconnecting with two other lifelong pals. They mourn the loss and pontificate about mortality as only men in their 20s can, before the film makes an abrupt tonal shift from "The Big Chill" to "Reservoir Dogs" as the three pursue the truth behind their friend's demise. "The Gray Area" was shot with the RedOne Digital Cinema Camera, a frequent tool of front-running filmmakers, and it looks great. Coupled with solid, mostly naturalistic performances, the film should serve as an effective calling card for everyone involved and is a worthwhile piece of cinema on its own. --The Oregonian

Portland cinema is coming up in the world; I can say that with certainty after watching The Gray Area, a dramatic thriller from Exterior Films. The Gray Area is a low-budget production that feels like a big-budget dramatic piece. Its writing is fresh, and for fans of neo-noir cinema, it works reasonably well without ever feeling corny or contrived. In short, the Gray Area may be the best indie feature to come out of Portland. The film follows the travails of a group of friends who have come together to mourn the loss of their friend, Gavin. Gavin passed away from an apparent drug overdose. Now his friends must learn to cope with their own issues. Jonah is a recovering drug addict, Joey never stops to think about recovering from drug addiction between bouts of meaningless sex, and Christian is a soldier with a sense of entitlement and self-confidence. The friends gather together, explore the state of their lives and generally chew the scenery... until Jonah posits the theory that Gavin might not have killed himself. Now, the friends, convinced that their friend was murdered by a drug dealer, must uncover the truth of Gavin s demise. What follows is a realistic examination of grief, coping with loss, and self-discovery... all laced over a nice revenge framework designed to be brutal and enlightening at the same time. Director Chapin Hemmingway has loads of talent; that much is clear. The fact that much of the movie is composed of dialogue and non-action centered set pieces would sink most indie films, but with Hemmingway running things, it actually turns out to be one of the films strengths. Few people can take a scene of dialogue and make it interesting, even with top flight actors at their disposal, but Hemmingway understands dialogue scenes like few directors. Though his characters may be saying very little, the characters actions and movements speak volumes. Hemmingway does a fantastic job of using scenery, locations, and outstanding cinematography to accomplish his goals. And just when you feel like the film is all talk and no action, he inserts the action like a knife, twisting it in the viewer s ribs so they know it s there. The fantastic script from Tyson Balcomb and Hemmingway comes to life and grips the viewer from the very beginning of the film to its conclusion. The cast of the film is comprised of relative unknowns, who seize this opportunity to make a name for themselves. Gavin Bristol, as Joey, makes for a deliciously familiar persona. Bristol has just the right amount of everyday dudeness to him, not enough to make him annoying and not too little to make the character bland. Bristol plays the role perfectly, and when he s required to provide a little depth, he does so easily. Morgan Lee is similarly solid as Jonah, the ex-junkie of the group. Lee s performance is earnest and poignant throughout. As the conscience of the group, Lee works wonderfully. Ian McMilan isn t as good as the other two actors in the group, and many of his lines sound stilted throughout the film, but he has his moments. When it s time to do the dirty work, McMilan picks up the slack and salvages the role. The Gray Area isn t going to light the world on fire, and it offers nothing truly groundbreaking, but if you want to see stellar filmmaking on a truly independent level, then it s definitely something worth seeking out. It entertains, enthralls, and is wonderful to look at. If only The Gray Area actually went somewhere in the end, it would be a near perfect movie. Final Synopsis: The Gray Area is good watching through and through. If you love indie dramas, you should definitely seek this one out. I can t wait to see what these guys come up with next. --Movie Cynics

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