Friday April 20, 2001
"The Low Down" is exactly what this English film doesn't deliver, for its maker, Jamie Thraves, reveals more about his central character in the publicity notes than on the screen. Thraves' first feature is so personal that he seems too close to it to make it very involving. And close-up it is: Thraves is forever having his cinematographer stick the camera smack in the face of his hero, Frank, and at other random objects as well, for reasons most often known only to him.
Considering his determinedly minimalist approach, Thraves is fortunate in having Aidan Gillen play Frank, a young man who works in his friend Mike's prop fabrication shop and lives in a noisy, attractively raffish London neighborhood. Because the camera is so often on him, it doesn't hurt that Gillen is a skilled actor who can suggest that Frank is experiencing a great deal of unspoken uncertainty about his life.
Gillen won international acclaim as the arrogant seducer Stuart in the original "Queer as Folk" British TV series. And although Gillen is playing a totally opposite type, Frank, like Stuart, is approaching 30 with difficulty.
In his daily routine and while hanging out with pals, Frank seems in a constantly reflective state, experiencing a vague dissatisfaction but caught up in an inertia that remains an enigma. Although he embarks on an affair with an attractive young real estate agent, Ruby (Kate Ashfield, who has a warm, natural presence), he is so tentative about the relationship that he spies on her at designated meeting places, rushing up to her only when she starts to leave, believing she's been stood up. Meanwhile, things are getting tense at work, because his pal John (Tobias Menzies), Mike's other employee, is becoming increasingly tardy and rebellious.
It comes as a surprise that what's eating away at Frank is he's not pursuing a career as a serious artist. We'll never know whether, until the moment of truth, he was aware or not of the source of his malaise--whether he was in such denial that it prevented him from pursuing painting or any other art form in his more than ample spare time. Publicity material states that Frank suffers from a lack of self-confidence, but on screen he comes across as simply another guy unable to figure out how to make his life more fulfilling.
Thraves is skillful at evoking mood and atmosphere and at depicting transitional periods in a person's life with a mildly wistful humor. His movie includes telling, idiosyncratic vignettes that reveal Frank's considerable sensitivity to others, but in the end Thraves hasn't made Frank distinctive enough to sustain interest in him for 101 minutes.
The Low Down, 2001. Unrated. A Shooting Gallery release. Writer-director Jamie Thraves. Producers John Stewart, Sally Llewellyn. Cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo. Editor Lucia Zucchetti. Music Nick Currie and Fred Thomas. Costumes Julie Jones. Production designer Lucy Reeves. Art director Alistair Saunders. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. Aidan Gillen as Frank. Kate Ashfield as Ruby. Dean Lennox Kelly as Mike. Tobias Menzies as John.