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Much Promise, But....
on 7 April 2014
This 2000 feature debut by British writer-director Jamie Thraves has a good deal to commend it, but ultimately did not quite fully engage with this viewer. Thraves has since gone on to make the (for me) vastly superior Treacle Jnr. which again stars Aiden Gillan in another 'modern urban tale', but one which has stronger elements of both drama and comedy. With The Low Down, Thraves has produced more of an 'ensemble piece', (undoubtedly) low-budget and low-key, telling the meandering story of a group of 20/30-something friends in London, at the core of which is Gillan's insecure and mixed-up 'TV prop artist', Frank, and his burgeoning relationship with Kate Ashfield's (equally confused) estate agent, Ruby.
Thraves certainly cannot be criticised for a lack of realism. If anything, Low Down is actually too realistic in the way Frank and Ruby's relationship is portrayed - full of unspoken emotions and confused reactions. But, given the lack of a strong narrative, and some superficial character development elsewhere, the subtlety in Gillen and Ashfield's turns here (the latter being particularly good) only serves to weaken viewer engagement. In general, the acting elsewhere is at least solid, with Frank's co-workers, Dean Lennox Kelly's 'resident comedian', Mike, and Tobias Menzie's waster, John, (between which two characters Thraves skilfully develops an increasingly fractious relationship) both engaging, whilst another friend, Rupert Procter's Terry (a man with a dark past) delivers a subtle, naturalistic performance.
Visually, the film is always interesting, with some nice framing shots and lingering close-ups from cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo (particularly of Mike & Co.'s colourful props - giant hand and 'clown' face) - albeit he rather overdoes the hand-held camera at times (whizzing between his subjects). Thraves also includes some rare moments of more direct emotional drama - such as Frank and John's visceral encounter with a drunken yob in the pub (serving to reinforce the pair's retiring insecurity) and that between Frank and a 'girl beggar' (offering sex) - and, indeed, the film could have done with more of this. Had Thraves 'beefed up' this content and had a more memorable ending it would probably have pushed up my rating by another star. Having said all this, Thraves is certainly a film-maker worth keeping tabs on.
As an aside, Thraves' film is another whose '18' certification confused me - surely some swearing and brief full-frontal (male) nudity doesn't warrant such a draconian restriction?