Tag Archives: David Lowery

Darling Story

Peter Pan & Wendy

by Hope Madden

There’s reason to cheer for David Lowery’s latest effort for Disney, Peter Pan & Wendy. First of all, there’s Lowery’s vision.

In the hands of the Green Knight director, Neverland has never looked so gorgeous. He finds ways to exploit the wonder, beauty and danger of this adventureland in a way that fits his lilting retelling.

For the script, Lowery reteams with longtime producer Toby Halbrooks, who co-wrote the director’s previous Disney outing, Pete’s Dragon. Both of Lowery’s films for the Mouse only draw attention to the fact that the Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and The Old Man and the Gun filmmaker possesses no sense of irony, cynicism or fatalism. He seems weirdly perfect for family films.    

And, like Jon Favreau’s wonderful The Jungle Book, Lowery draws inspiration not only from the original text, but also from Disney’s classic animated version. Snippets of songs from the 1953 musical are woven throughout, enough to give parents and grandparents some nostalgic feels.

But do we need or want another Peter Pan story? Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin couldn’t find an audience for his 2020 bayou adaptation, Wendy. No one went to see Joe Wright’s star studded, Hugh Jackman led 2015 musical, Pan. Maybe a more traditional telling is in order? One that weighs the humanity as heavily as the whimsy?

Jude Law’s Hook offers surprising pathos. Never the campy pirate you may have come to expect, Hook is resigned to evil, his own pain a tender nerve just below the surface. It’s a dastardly but tender performance that gives the film a broken heart.

At his side, Jim Gaffigan’s Smee – pretty ideal casting, although the character is underused. Ever Anderson offers a substantial Wendy Darling, and the Lost Boys are not necessarily boys but they are mischievously charming. The problem is Peter.

Alexander Molony, thought cute as can be, is surprisingly lifeless in the lead. His highs don’t feel highs nor his lows low. His performance is neither cartoonish nor realistic.

The character itself gets a bit lost in the adaptation, which holds focus on Wendy’s arc far more than Peter’s story, and Lowery doesn’t seem entirely sure where Peter fits into all this. It’s one of the more ingenious elements of J.M. Barrie’s novel – Peter Pan is not the hero or the villain, he’s more the iconic fool whose lack of arc helps those around him find their own. But Lowery loses his footing when he focuses on Peter, and though his adventure is truly beautiful, it feels a little unfocused and possibly unnecessary.

Not Easy Being Green

The Green Knight

by Hope Madden

Lutes and mead, chainmail and sorcery—director David Lowery’s Camelot is just as rockin’ as ever in his trippy coming-of-age style The Green Knight.

Dev Patel stars as King Arthur’s nephew, Gawain. He’s a bit of a ne’er-do- well and it looks like he’s ne’er going to actually be knighted. But Christmas warms old Arthur’s heart and he asks the boy to take a seat of honor at the round table. When this menacing giant (think Groot, but sinister) drops in for a beheading game, Gawain offers to play so he can keep his uncle’s respect.

The story itself is more than 700 years old. Credit Lowery, who adapted the old ballad for the screen, with finding fresh intrigue in the old bones. He’s slippery with symbolism and draws wonderful performances from the ensemble.

Joel Edgerton is especially fun as The Lord, just one of many helpers and hindrances Gawain finds on his journey. Barry Keoghan is likewise wonderful playing a brash, angry scavenger. But Edgerton and Keoghan are always good. The real surprise here is Patel.

That’s not to say he’s unproven, just that his performances until now tend to rely heavily and falsely on an earnest streak. Gawain does not. Patel doesn’t shy away from or judge the character’s weakness or cowardice. Instead, he uses those very characteristics to make Gawain human.

It’s the kind of compassionate portrayal rarely depicted in an Arthurian fable, and it ensures that you care enough for the character to puzzle through his adventures with him. There’s sorcery afoot, and also psychedelic mushrooms, so who knows what’s really going on?

Here’s where Lowery really excels, though. His visual storytelling has always been his greatest strength as a director and this tale encourages his most fanciful and hypnotic visual style to date. The Green Knight is gorgeous. The color and framing are pure visual poetry. Together with this exceptional ensemble, Lowery’s created a magical realm where you believe anything could happen.

Geriatric Horseman

The Old Man & the Gun

by George Wolf

Even if this doesn’t end up being Robert Redford’s final film as an actor, it’s understandable why he’d be tempted to make it his swan song.

Redford’s decades-long status as a screen icon has always leaned more on charm than range, and The Old Man & the Gun wears that strategy like a favorite pair of broken-in boots.

Director/co-writer David Lowery adapts a magazine article on a likable rogue named Forest Tucker, who broke out of San Quentin at the age of 70 and earned his folk hero status with a string of brazen bank robberies.

Tucker (Redford, natch) plots the heists with his grey-haired gang of two (Danny Glover, Tom Waits) and flirts with the farm-living Jewel (Sissy Spacek) while lawman John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is on his tail.

And the old scalawag couldn’t be happier while doing it.

The story is light and whimsical, but thanks to the veteran actors and the slyly understated direction, it’s got a frisky heart that won’t quit. Watching Redford and Spacek together is a joy in itself, as Jewel’s bemused-but-curious reaction to her new suitor only brings more twinkles to his eye. Then there’s Affleck easily filling Hunt with the perfect strain of frustration-laced respect, and Waits delivering some deliciously dry one-liners.

But it’s Lowery who may be the real wonder here. After Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon and A Ghost Story, he again shows unique storytelling instincts no matter what tonal gears he’s shifting. This film is a satisfied mosey, one that serves as a sunset ride for a Hollywood legend while letting the exploits of a charming bandit reinforce the value of just loving what you do.

For Tucker, it was robbing banks. For Redford, it was being an iconic leading man.

Lowery makes sure they both get a proper sendoff.

Spirit in the Material World

A Ghost Story

by George Wolf

Before some empty misnomers such as “prestige horror” are bandied about, let’s be clear: this is not a horror movie.

But what A Ghost Story is not hardly matters when what it is remains this beautiful. Writer/director David Lowery has crafted a poetic, moving testament to the certainty of time, the inevitability of death and the timeless search for connection.

Opening with a telling quote from Virginia Woolf’s short story “A Haunted House,” Lowery shows us Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a loving couple at odds over whether to move from their current house. She wants to, he doesn’t.

A car accident tragically takes his life, and as her life must move on, his spirit rises to wander as the silent, white-sheeted embodiment of any number of homemade Halloween costumes.

The irony of such a childlike image representing themes so vast and existential seems silly, but only for a few moments, until Lowery’s stationary camera and long, elegant takes wrap you in a strangely hypnotic trance.

After the curious detour of Pete’s Dragon last year, Lowery returns to the dreamlike imagery that drove his richly rewarding Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and evokes the best of Terrence Malick. Here, the Malick comparisons may be even more apt as A Ghost Story‘s narrative is loose and abstract, with long stretches of little to no dialogue.

Both Affleck and Mara (also Lowery’s leads from Bodies Saints) are deeply affecting, though a big part of the film’s conscience is instead revealed through the monologue of a random one-scene character. That’s fitting, for what makes this film so eerily touching is not what it tells but what it shows, and our ache for the couple comes in part from their staying out of our reach.

As the ghost travels through time and circumstance, it’s easy to see Woolf’s short story as a major inspiration for Lowery – right up to the sudden and glorious finale that’s sure to fuel plenty of conversation. Restless spirits amid the slow, silent march of mortality may sound like a horror show, but A Ghost Story is anchored by a loving hope that might bring a tear to the eye.





Ain’t That Film Impressive

by Hope Madden


The screen fills with the sepia image of a bygone Texas. Sinewy lovers quarrel and forgive, then wait in a pick-up, planning a future with their unborn baby, until the third robber arrives. There’s a chase, a lonesome shack, a shoot out, and a compromise that sends the boy away to prison and the girl home to pine.

There’s good reason writer/director David Lowery’s romantic tragedy Ain’t Them Bodies Saints feels so confident. The breathtaking cinematography, the fittingly artistic framing, the poetry of the language and image, the heartbreaking authority of the performances – each element fits together beautifully and benefits from the artistic coordination of a maestro. It’s because the relatively unknown Lowery has honed his craft, spending time as a casting director, crewman, writer, director, sound editor, actor, producer, and cinematographer before tackling this, the culminating effort of a lifetime spent in film.

He’s blessed with a cast that embraces his understated drama. Casey Affleck animates a career full of characters with vulnerability and confused nobility, and he impresses again here as the outlaw who breaks out of prison, just like he promised, to reunite with his girl and the daughter he’s never met.

Rooney Mara’s quiet ferocity offsets Affleck’s tenderness, and the love story they create offers a poignant center to the film. Orbiting the couple is Ben Foster’s humble police officer, torn by his affection for one and duty to the other. Each actor embodies an image of lonesomeness that makes the film ache. What’s beautiful about this triangle is that neither the characters nor the filmmaker judges anyone. Lowery and his characters accept, however sadly, the motivations and actions of all involved.

The young mother also attracts the protective nature of a retired gangster/father figure played by Keith Carradine, whose presence reinforces the film’s bluesy connection to the other great, doomed Western romance, McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

The film’s one shortcoming is that it does not tell a larger tale. This beautifully told story of loneliness, devotion, love and tragedy never manages to transcend its own intimacy to speak to something universal.

But it’s a hell of an effort, and one that establishes Lowery as one of the most exciting new filmmakers to come along in decades.