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SWEET AND LOWDOWN, 1999
Movie Review

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SWEET AND LOWDOWN, MOVIE POSTERSWEET AND LOWDOWN, 1999
Movie Reviews

Directed by Woody Allen
Cast: Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Uma Thurman, Anthony LaPaglia
Review by Jarred Thomas


SYNOPSIS:

Fictional biopic set In the 1930s, about a fictional jazz guitarist Emmet Ray idolizes Django Reinhardt, faces gangsters and falls in love with a mute.

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REVIEW:

Ever heard of Emmet Ray? One of the best guitar players that ever lived in the 30ís is explored in Woody Allenís film about the musicianís renowned career. Only, Emmet was never real. Woody creates an exciting and engaging fictional biopic with Sean Penn as the lead playing an egotistical fast talking guitar player who believes he is the best player, maybe second only to Django Reinhardt, a real guitarist of the 1930s.

Emmet Ray is one of the most vein characters in cinema history. A fast talker and hard drinker, Emmet is in a world of his own with everyone else just passing through. Penn is great. You feel as if Emmet was a real person with his larger than life personality but human frailty and personal torment that adds a sense of reality to the character.

However while Penn is terrific to watch, Samantha Morton is simply stills the film despite never speaking. Her character, Hattie, is a mute and her only way of expressing herself besides writing a few words here and there, is through her facial expression that Morton does perfectly. In developing the character, Woody told Morton to look at Harpo Marx as a form of inspiration, and although she initially had no clue who that was, she followed through and create the most compelling character in the film.

Itís great that Woody Allenís films are never the same, yet the quality, acting, and story have always been the signs of a versatile director. Using excellent actors, Woody is able to utilize top notch performances to convey a movie that has depth in story and character. In the tradition of biopic, Woody has several interviews intertwined throughout the film.

The interviews, some with Woody as himself, are of people who have knowledge of Emmet Ray and add their own personal take on the once respected player. Everyone has their own interpretation of the accounts that took place in various stories, the best one coming from the supposed store heist that takes place towards the end. After catching Blanche (Thurman), his wife, and Al Torrio (LaPalia) spending time together, Emmet follows them into a gas station. What next happens next varies depending on the person recounting the story.

In one version, the couple goes into a gas station which is being held up by several robbers. The thieves run out the store into the car of Al Torrioís which also has Emmet, who has been hiding in the back the entire time. After the police chase them down, guns blazing, Emmet steps out of the vehicle, holding a gun he was planning on using on the Blanche and Al Torrio, and addresses the police ďIím Emmet Ray. The greatest jazz guitarist everÖsecond maybe to that gypsy guy.Ē

Another story tells that before the couple go into the gas station, Emmet comes out, holding his gun, and confronts them. He holds the gun up, asking Blanche why she cheated on him, and then threatens to shoot himself. However, in an interview, Woody denies that Emmet would ever kill himself because his ego was too big that he could never commit suicide. The alternate stories make for the best sequence in the film; however the best story comes after Emmet, still in the car with the robbers, crash into another vehicle. When Emmet gets out the car, he is face to face with Django Reinhardt, his idol and rival, although only he sees it that way. Emmet after realizing its Django, passes out.

Sweet and Lowdown is a charming film. The chemistry between Penn and Morton is compelling to watch with Penn being the fast talker while Morton simply makes facial gestures to show her affection. Itís a nice dichotomy. Woody Allen makes films left and right, each year he has one. But it never seems to affect the quality. Sweet and Lowdown is a sign and testament to the directorís range in creativity and craft as a filmmaker that doesnít seem to be hindered by expediency.

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