A chilling turn by Patrick Bauchau as Albert Fish, the seemingly harmless old gent exposed in 1934 as a serial child murderer, dominates “The Gray Man.” Skirting graphic horror terrain for a less sensational character study/detective-procedural, helmer Scott Flynn’s debut feature manages to be just moderately compelling despite the grotesque subject. Cable and DVD sales are signaled.
Fish raised six children alone after their mother abandoned the family. Grown by the time the pic starts in the late 1920s, his kids thought him peculiar. But they had no idea his transient life of boarding houses and odd jobs obscured extremely disturbed penchants for religious fanaticism, obscene letter-writing, self-flagellation, pederasty, even cannibalism. A compulsive liar, it’s unknown how many crimes he actually committed. Pic details just one, his abduction of 10-year-old Grace Bud from poor parents who thought him a charitable wealthy farmer. Jack Conley plays (with a bit too much posturing) the police dick obsessed with finding her killer. Bauchau gives a credible, unnerving perf. Production nicely recreates the tenement milieu of another working-class age. But given its theme, “Man” should leave a more potent impression.