The Gray Man is a 2007 made, it seems, with a low-budget and a non-starry cast, but I found it rather more impressive than many a blockbuster. It's based on a true story from the 20s and30s, about the American cannibal and paedophile Albert H. Fish. I'd heard of Fish, but didn't know much about his homicidal career, which in fact was as gruesome as you could possibly imagine. But a great merit of this film is that it avoids the sensational and the salacious as far as practicable.
A preludes shows Fish being mistreated during his boyhood at an orphanage, and the screenplay makes clear that this played a major part in turning him into a quite monstrous killer. Fish is played by Patrick Bauchau, an actor unknown to me, who does a very good job of capturing the seemingly irreconcilable aspects of Fish's personality. He has charm, and is in some respects a good father, but he's also capable of repellent acts of sheer evil.
Jack Conley plays Will King, a cop who eventually becomes involved when Fish abducts a young girl called Grace Budd. The scenes in which Fish takes Grace on a trip - supposedly to another girl's birthday party - are sad and deeply chilling. Suffice to say that her story did not have a happy ending. The tragic folly of Grace's mother - who wrongly identifies someone else as the kidnapper - is also conveyed with some pathos.
I don't claim that this film is a masterpiece. It's hard to understand what makes a man like Fish behave in such a way, and the story of his life was rather more complicated than the screenplay suggests. But it is crisply and capably written, and held my attention from start to finish. Such a horrible story could easily have become a gorefest. Instead, The Gray Man gives us at least a partial insight into one of the most extraordinary American murder cases and does not treat its lurid subject matter in an exploitative way - and it's all the better for that..