‘Low Life’ Captures Truth About Struggling in L.A.

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By its very title, “The Low Life” conjures up film noir images of seedy bars, cheap apartments and mean streets. It has all of that in abundance, but instead of shady dames and private eyes, it has a trio of recent Ivy League college graduates who are struggling to survive in L.A. in the ‘90s.

For the moment, the best they can do for themselves is work as temps, pulling and sorting carbon credit slips. In decades past, lots of us with college degrees started out in equally menial positions. But we had reason to be confident that opportunities would open up and that we would eventually move on.

With “The Low Life,” director George Hickenlooper and his co-writer, John Enbom, introduce us to the harsh realities facing young people in today’s world of lowered expectations.


You really have to wonder whether Chad (Ron Livingston), who can all too easily run off to his rich father’s Aspen retreat, or Christian Meoli’s hotheaded wise-guy Leonard are going to get very far professionally. Rory Cochrane’s John is a different matter. He is a taciturn, serious young man determined to become a writer and, heeding his writer-uncle’s advice, he’s equally determined to keep himself emotionally detached from one and all.

Almost immediately, however, John is beleaguered on all sides. His temp agency transfers him to the office of an obnoxious, unscrupulous young slumlord (James Le Gros), who’s been set up in business by his self-made father (J.T. Walsh).

Not only is John brought face to face with flagrant daily abuse of tenants, he also is confronted with a new roommate (Sean Astin, in a standout portrayal), a sweetly square kid from Modesto who craves attention as a newborn puppy does.

What’s more, through his new job, John meets one of his employer’s disgruntled tenants, a beautiful young woman (Kyra Sedgwick) who falls back on an affected Southern belle pose as a defense against the sad fact that she’s drifting from man to man just as she’s drifting from job to job amid a haze of drugs and booze.

Cinematographer Richard Crudo captures beautifully the scarred, derelict interiors and exteriors that characterize great swaths of our City of Angels. Wryly humorous as well as compassionate, “The Low Life” is a modest but deeply felt film with a solid ensemble cast that includes Sara Melson as a level-headed waitress at a bar where John and his pals hang out. In an atmosphere of much brutal here-and-now immediacy, Hickenlooper evokes eternal truths about human emotions and responsibilities.

* MPAA rating: R, for language, sexuality and some drug use. Times guidelines: There is also heavy smoking and drinking throughout the film.



‘The Low Life’

Rory Cochrane: John

Kyra Sedgwick: Bevan

Sean Astin: Andy

Ron Livingston: Chad

Christian Meoli: Leonard

James Le Gros: Mike Jr.

A Cabin Fever and Cinepix Film Properties presentation. Director George Hickenlooper. Producers Donald Zuckerman, Tobin Heminway. Executive producers Mark Blum, Hickenlooper, Gary Siegler & Leslie Zuckerman. Screenplay by John Enbom, Hickenlooper; from a story by Enbom. Cinematographer Richard Crudo. Editors Yaffa Lerea, Jim Makiej. Costumes Alexandra Welker. Music Bill Boll. Production designer Deborah Smith. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

* Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379.