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Jamie Thraves made his name directing pop promos, most notably the spellbinding video for Radiohead's 'Just', whose haunting imagery of a man lying immobile in the street won the MVPA Video of the Year award in 1996.
Unlike most music industry graduates, whose first foray into the world of feature films tend to result in a series of glossy, insubstantial, set pieces impersonating a rounded whole, Thraves has created a slow-burning and engrossing mini-masterpiece about a group of twentysomething friends making the final journey into adulthood.
The star of the show is Frank, played by Aidan Gillen, best known for his part as the arrogant, charismatic Stuart in Channel 4's controversial Queer As Folk. Here he is quite the reverse - quiet, introspective, somewhat emotionally detached, although the enigmatic aura remains.
He works with two college friends making props for television comedies (Adam and Joe make a brief cameo), lives in a semi-squalid flat shared flat in Dalston and exudes a vague, unspoken dissatisfaction with his lot. The truth of the matter, as gradually unravelled by Thraves, is that he has reached a point where student-like existence is no longer enough for him.
Matters are brought to a head when he embarks on a non-committal relationship with an estate agent called Ruby, played by Kate Ashfield. They are both well-versed in this sort of arrangement yet are clearly reaching a stage in their lives where it doesn't suit either, but his stubborn unwillingness to admit this proves problematic.
The Low Down is more about capturing a moment in life than it is about telling a story and for this reason the thinness of the plot is a positive advantage. Where it transcends countless 'coming of age' efforts is in its superlative script and the ingenuity of the camera work and editing.
By using the camera like a third party in the room (think This Life but less frenetic, more natural), Thraves liberates himself from a conventional approach. To this he adds a series of effects such as freeze framing a facial expression while letting the dialogue run on, which creates a heightened verite style more akin to remembering actual events than watching fiction on screen.
The dialogue, a good deal of which looks improvised, is remarkable, capturing the awkwardness, humour, and assorted nonsense of real conversation so accurately that it's a joyous experience to witness. Never is this better executed than in a scene when Frank and friends stagger home with a curry after a night on the town.
Drunk acting is fraught with danger but this is so real, so funny, so brilliantly observed (Dean Lennox Kelly's sozzled impressions of everyone from Billy Connolly to the Blankety Blank theme tune are outrageously good) that you'll believe you were there or, at the very least, wish desperately that you were.
The Low Down is funny, sad, moving, possibly profound and definitely unique. If you appreciate subtle, intelligent British filmmaking, you really ought to see this film. If you spent your early adulthood with a ragbag of humanity anywhere near East London, then you absolutely have to.
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