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Laramie Movie Scope: Low Down

Playing sweet and low down on the piano

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 24, 2015 -- This film title reminded me of Woody Allen's “Sweet and Lowdown” about another musician who couldn't hold his life together. Unlike the fictional guitarist in Woody's film, this is a biographical film about a real person, jazz pianist Joe Albany. The film is based on a book written by Joe's daughter, Amy-Jo, “Low Down: Junk, Jazz, and Other Fairy Tales from Childhood.” This film is told from Amy-Jo's (played by Elle Fanning of “Maleficent”) point of view.

Joe Albany's (played by John Hawkes of “The Sessions”) personal life was a mess, drug addiction, failed marriages, in trouble with the law on both side of the Atlantic, but at the same time he was also a great musician, who played on numerous albums and played with jazz greats Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Amy-Jo Albany had a tough time growing up with a drug addicted father and an alcoholic mother.

This is a slice-of-life film about a period of Joe's life when he is in and out of jail and treatment centers. It also covers a period of time he spent in Europe, leaving Amy-Jo to be cared for by Joe's mother (played by Glenn Close of “Guardians of the Galaxy”). There is a period of time when one of Joe's wives, Sheila (Lena Headey of “300: Rise of an Empire”) returns to live with her and Joe, with disastrous results. In one scene, Sheila is so drunk that Amy-Jo has to practically carry her home. In another scene, Sheila delivers a devastating verbal put down on Amy-Jo.

Joe comes across as a good-hearted man who loves his family, but also loves heroin and other drugs. He loves to get high. Joe's mother seems to be the only member of the family who has her life together. She takes care of Amy-Jo when Joe is overseas or in jail, prison, or locked up in a treatment facility. Amy-Jo's boyfriend, an epileptic drummer, Cole (Caleb Landry Jones of “Contraband”) is a nice enough guy, but he has severe health problems.

Another character in the film, Alain (Peter Dinklage of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) seems friendly enough, but Amy-Jo is upset when she finds out he appears in pornographic films. Joe's friend, Lester Hobbs (played by Flea, a musician who can play the trumpet and grew up loving jazz, like people in the film) is a man on the skids, who enables Joe's drug addiction. The climax of the film comes when Amy-Jo has to decide which path she is going to take with her own life. Amy-Jo has plenty of bad examples from both parents, so at least she knew enough to at least try to the paths that lead to substance abuse.

John Hawkes, a really fine actor, gives a towering performance in this film. He is as good in this film as any actor I've seen this year, including all those guys nominated for all the 2014 top awards. I think if more people had seen this film, Hawkes would have gotten some of those awards. Glenn Close also gives a great performance in this film as Joe's frustrated mother. She displays love, support, pride, anger and disappointment with her wayward, drug addicted, brilliant son. Lena Headey also gives a great performance as a mean drunk.

If this was a fictional film, there would be a violent death or suicide to ramp up the drama, but it is based on real life, and none that happened, so it may be a disappointment to those who like the darker, more depressing, more cynical view of people. The real thing is depressing enough without that. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)