Movie Review : A Gray State (2017)
U.S army veteran and libertarian filmmaker David Crowley became a cult figure for the alt right movement a couple years ago after releasing a concept thriller for a movie called Gray State, which was (conveniently) yet to be written. The movie was delayed over and over, for writing and development purposes, until it came to a grinding halt with the violent death of David Crowley and his family. A Gray State is a documentary on this enigmatic figure that captured the imagination of young american libertarians and the absolute fucking shit show of his demise.
A Gray State is structured around two key perspectives surrounding David Crowley's death : what his followers think happened to him (the first forty minutes or so) and what most likely happened to him (or the official version). There is no pretense of telling the truth in A Gray State, but it is rather an exercise in comparing versions of events and leading the audience to draw its own conclusions when the factual truth can't be known. It's a movie that requires your active participation. It is sneakily not about David Crowley, but rather about the fake news era and how fucking crazy "woke" perspectives sound when you take time to look at things.
The alt right conspiracy theory is that David Crowley was murdered by the government for being an agitator and inspiring the American people to revolt against the New World Order with his film. Crowley obviously wasn't killed by the government. Nothing he says in A Gray State and no number he brags about indicates he was a threat of any sort to them. His discourse is bland one, filled with paranoid populist insinuations that the government is out to get the simple, hard working American people for reasons that are unclear. He looked like a guy really pissed to have been deployed twice, but not much more than that. No, the truth is most likely what police reports are stating: David Crowley killed his family and committed suicide.
And why would a young, up-and-coming filmmaker do that to himself? Well, take a look at the concept trailer for Gray State above. It kind of looks like a made for t.v piece of shit that shamelessly panders to a demographic of psychotic rednecks, doesn't it? A Gray State paints a portrait of a talented and ambitious businessman who completely oversold a project he only had a vague idea about. Gray State became popular (and was funded) before a script was even written. People bought the idea of a violent, gory anti-government film more than they bought the film himself. A Gray State shows a confused and increasingly more tense David Crowley as he's going through the writing process.
I mean, look at this. This is the closest thing to a script he had and at no time in the movie he can coherently explain it :
So, another sneaky theme of A Gray State is that writing makes you crazy. It's psychologically exhausting if you will. David Crowley put a lot of pressure on himself by selling his movie before he actually knew what to do with it. There's a crazy, powerful scene towards the end where A Gray State's director Erik Nelson interviews two Hollywood executives Crowley had met and struck a development deal with. The two men give their candid impression of Crowley before hearing a voice memo he taped on his iPhone where he prepares for the said meeting and rehearses his speech like an actor. David Crowley controlled every variable about Gray State except his own inspiration and that failure ultimately drove him over the edge.
A Gray State was a first Erik Nelson movie for me, but Werner Herzog's executive producer credit made me immediately at ease. The two men have worked together on Herzog's iconic documentary Grizzly Man before and the influence of the latter on A Gray State. Its free-flowing, unobtrusive style organically tells a story the audience have to piece together and draw and understanding of their own from. It really doesn't have any training wheels to it and it gets confusing at times, but it ultimately leads you down the path of a powerful conclusion, because that conclusion is your own. I'd take another Nelson/Herzog collaboration any day.