Low Down

True stories of drug-addled hepcats in downward spirals aren’t exactly rare in movies, nor is the tendency to exaggerate them. But in the aptly named Low Down, director Jeff Preiss strips one such story of all bathos, refusing bullshit exaltation in favor of poignant day-to-day banality. It’s a risk, this lack of hysterics, and it has a flattening effect on the narrative, but Preiss makes good use of a bravely temperate cast. John Hawkes inhabits the muted mid-1970s anguish of bop pianist and heroin addict Joe Albany, as chronicled in the memoir by his daughter Amy-Jo, whose wistful and watchful presence the movie entrusts to Elle Fanning. Her grandmother, Joe’s mother, is played with zero vanity by Glenn Close. Low Down works best as a portrait of familial weariness and its fleeting consolations, which here include enlivening piano solos and deadening dope. Hawkes is as ever completely convincing, and resolute in revealing the commonness of Albany’s plight. Sallow 16mm cinematography and talk of Jimmy Carter on an offscreen TV complete the aura of pervasive malaise; in fact, the period details are what pop the most in this movie set so squarely in the past, a new true story of man who never really had a future.