So what’s “the low down” on The Low Down? I always thought the phrase implied the facts, the scoop, or “the inside dope,” if you will. In other words, to get the low down on something is to be privy to information, without which, one could very well be “in the dark.” So, given this vernacular, it’s a little disappointing to say that I honestly have no idea what The Low Down was about. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a confusing mess because it’s more coherent than that. But it’s still a mess.
Love and Life London style
Set in London, The Low Down loosely follows the lives of three English blokes who share a job sculpting throwaway props for a local game show. The film eventually centers on Frank (Aiden Gillen), who is disillusioned by the working grind and the hangovers from the spirits at the pub. He focuses his efforts on developing a relationship with Ruby (Kate Ashfield), whom he meets while looking to purchase a flat (she’s a real estate agent).
Unsatisfied with her job and still spinning form a recent breakup, Ruby is also looking for something better.
Crime and Punishment, without the Punishment
Frank and Ruby take walks in the park, discuss books she’s read and he’s failed to finish (the early signs of a personality flaw), and exchange enough private looks to give one the general impression that they’re paying attention to each other.
The two characters, as with the rest of the film, develop less through dialogue and narrative exposition, than through stylistic choices made by music video director Jamie Thraves. Slow motion, freeze frame, extreme close-up, and interior monologue are a few of the techniques he uses as the story unfolds. His experimentation is nothing new at all — and that’s the problem.
The film’s style, for all of its new wave influence, becomes trite after just a few minutes. For a movie to work in this way, where the characters are revealed through a series of convincing moments rather than by a standard dramatic arch, there needs to be revelation and insight. Also, since there’s no story to speak of, the movie has to deliver a realism that will also entertain us. The Low Down continually fails to do both. The scenes aren’t very believable and the characters never deliver a single insight.
Frank’s main flaws are that he loses his temper and is afraid of commitment, but these are too easily stated by the character himself. There’s nothing to discover — or worth discovering — about anyone, with the exception of Ruby. Ashfield, who was also very convincing in The War Zone, somehow manages to stand out and remain a mystery at the same time. Her believable performance seems like the only thing in tune with the rest of the film and it’s a shame that her character wasn’t more central.
Not all bad
There are some things to recommend about The Low Down. I liked the photography; the movie had an appealingly scrappy look about it. There were also hints at stronger issues in the film, like the economic pressures for the working class in London, and the strong tendency to escape those pressures via alcohol. But usually each scene seemed incomplete, and when the film takes an abrupt halt to languish on a PJ Harvey song, the music video roots of the picture’s creator becomes clear.
Thraves may know how to shoot some smart images and arrange them to the song of a great rock artist, but his attempt at something more meaningful falls short of anything more substantial than a collection of slightly interesting outtakes.