'Grey Lady': Film Review

Grey Lady Still 1 Eric Dane - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Claire Folger
Hopelessly convoluted.

Eric Dane and Natalie Zea co-star alongside Amy Madigan in John Shea's Massachusetts-set cop thriller.

Nearly 20 years after directing his debut feature, Southie, veteran actor John Shea (Agent X, An Invisible Sign) steps behind the camera again. Once more focusing on the insidious influence of Boston's criminal underworld, Shea assembles many of the requisite elements of a contemporary crime drama, but orchestrates them so chaotically that audiences may be put off by the film's unwelcome onslaught of stale genre techniques.

Shea knows well enough to lead off with an action sequence, as Boston police detective James Doyle (Eric Dane) responds to a 911 call reporting a hostage situation. Along with his partner (and girlfriend) Maggie (Rebecca Gayheart), he discovers too late that they've been set up and drawn into an ambush. Although he barely manages to escape, unknown assailants cold-bloodedly assassinate Maggie before vanishing without a trace. Her murder follows the recent unsolved death of Doyle's sister, mysteriously killed by a hit-and-run driver. Suspended from the police force following these twin tragedies while he's investigated for negligence, Doyle tracks a lead gleaned from Maggie's dying words to Nantucket Island to pursue his inquiry.

Local officer Johnson (Adrian Lester) and police chief Maguire (Shea) are none too happy to have Doyle poking around their little precinct, however. Since it's the inclement off-season, when residents are fond of referring to the island as the "Grey Lady," Doyle just stands out all the more. Concluding that he's determined to go his own way regardless of the consequences, Johnson offers Doyle some low-key assistance, if only to keep a closer eye on the renegade Boston cop.

Doyle's search gradually zeroes in a local woman who he suspects may be connected to the disappearance of his Aunt Lola (Amy Madigan) and the deaths of his sister and Maggie. Although the Nantucket cops insist that Lola is long gone from the island and urge him to drop his investigation, the murder of a well-known local resident only lends more urgency to the case.  

Shea has a rich tradition of criminal activity in the Boston area to draw on for his latest feature, not to mention such outstanding films as The Departed, Mystic River and The Town to measure up to. With such a wealth of material, perhaps it's tempting to cast a wide net, as Shea's script attempts to draw in everything from the notorious Winter Hill Gang to long-hidden betrayals and multiple mental breakdowns. As if all of the family drama weren't enough, the introduction of Melissa (Natalie Zea), a resident artist on the island, as Doyle's new love interest complicates matters further when his reckless investigation inevitably jeopardizes her safety.

Dane initially brings a measure of credibility to the role of the much-beleaguered Doyle, but as the plot twists and bodies begin piling up and the absurdity of the script's scope becomes apparent, it's almost as valid to see him as some unexpected jester who provokes chaos wherever he impulsively turns. Entering the narrative in the latter half with a certain quiet grace, Zea doesn't log enough screen time to tame the film's more extreme tendencies, best represented by Madigan's madwoman Lola, who proves almost a relief as her bizarre backstory thoroughly confirms the wild instability of the Doyle clan.

Shea's intense focus on constructing an overly intricate plot isn't borne out by the film's visual style, which is more workmanlike than inspired. The lovely locations throughout Nantucket (where Shea is a resident and co-founder of the Nantucket Film Festival) provide a consistent diversion however, virtually assuring ongoing production opportunities for the picturesque island.

Distributors: Beacon Pictures, Broadvision Entertainment

Production company: Pataphysical Productions

Cast: Eric Dane, Natalie Zea, Amy Madigan, Adrian Lester, Carolyn Stotesberry, Chris Meyer, Rebecca Gayheart, Jimmy Cummings, Eilin O'Dea, Laila Robins, John Shea

Director-writer: John Shea

Producers: Armyan Bernstein, Suzann Ellis, John Shea

Executive producers: Wendy Schmidt, Richard Driehaus, Jon Sheinberg, Jean Su

Director of photography: Andrzej Bartkowiak

Editor: Tirsa Hackshaw

Music: Andrew W. Bullington

Casting director: Avy Kaufman


Rated R, 109 minutes