Inspired by true events, The Grizzlies follows fledgling teacher Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) as he accepts a job within a remote Arctic community called Kugluktuk – with the character’s efforts at connecting with his disaffected, suicidal students leading him to establish a lacrosse team. It’s a familiar premise that is, at the outset, employed to agreeable effect by first-time filmmaker Miranda de Pencier, as The Grizzlies boasts a mostly engaging first half that’s elevated by Schnetzer’s impressively charismatic turn as the movie’s central character. (There’s little doubt, too, that de Pencier effectively elicits strong work from her cast of young performers.) Scripters Graham Yost and Moira Walley-Beckett deliver a somewhat erratic narrative that doesn’t, at least, shy away from the more grim aspects of life within Kugluktuk, and yet it’s equally apparent that the screenwriters’ ongoing efforts at balancing the story’s multitude of feel-good and gritty elements generally fall fairly flat. The Grizzlies consequently does start to demonstrably run out of steam as it passes the one-hour mark, and it’s clear, ultimately, that the impact of the picture’s climax is severely diminished by the progressively erratic atmosphere – which, despite an inherently compelling setup and a series of positive attributes, ensures that the film is finally unable to entirely justify its feature-length running time.
** out of ****