Room without a view

Young man gropes for a plan.

SLACKER CHARACTER STUDIES have pretty much run their course in the U.S., our great nation of fecklessness. Abroad, however, it seems the genre has been successfully exported along with the early '90s repertoire of TV advertising camera work. The latter particularly informs Jamie Thraves' debut feature, which employs one of the most annoying of ad techniques. You recall the old spots with the shaky, handheld camera framed claustrophobically tight on some executives sweating out a deal. The lens whips back and forth, nervously echoing their discontent, until the advertiser's solution allows the frame to settle.


written and directed by Jamie Thraves with Aidan Gillen and Kate Ashfield runs April 20-May 3 at Uptown

Aimless Frank is looking for the same sort of peace, although his world is far removed from the corporate suite. Laboring as a TV prop maker in a London studio, he's a handsome, likable working-class bloke with an art school education behind him. Apparently earning enough money to buy his own flat, he still clings to his ratty old student ways and shared apartment located on a bad street next to a crack house. Isn't it time to move? Isn't it time to move on with his life? That's all there is to the slice-of-life Down, which simply depicts an ordinary guy at a crossroads. Will he grow up? Or will he follow the path of his lazy, self-deluding buddy and co-worker John?

"I've changed," vows Frank (Aidan Gillen, known to some as Stuart on the BBC series Queer as Folk). Oh really? Certainly Ruby (Kate Ashfield) has reason to doubt him. A cute real estate broker, she shows him a few apartments before falling into his bed, but her motivations remain blank. What's the appeal? She's a reader; he can't finish a book. "I've got this really terrible concentration," he says to excuse his forgetfulness and standing her up, but we know he's only being half-honest with her. Their tentative relationship owes more to cinematic gestures—freeze-frames, slow motion, nonsynchronous dialogue—than emotional engagement. Bad pop music montages are presumably meant to help, but don't.

Frank's stated resistance to living anyplace "too posh" amounts to his personal credo, but the movie doesn't disguise his inarticulate, unformed ideas. Down contains no false drama, conflicts, or resolutions, and that's a virtue. It also feels completely improvised, and that isn't a compliment. Compared to February's unheralded, affecting Last Resort (also a part of the Shooting Gallery Film Series), Down counts as a respectable, tedious misfire. It's like Frank himself: You don't mind him when he's there, you don't miss him when he's gone.

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