A retirement-age loan shark confronts the practical and metaphysical aspects of debt in “Lustre,” a two-fisted tone poem that rails against homogenization while celebrating what makes New York City unique. Capturing the gruff beauty of dilapidated storefronts and the inherent grace of solidly crafted skyscrapers, Art Jones’ (“Going Nomad,” 1998) sophomore feature is anchored by a front-and-center perf by the late Victor Argo. Uneven but affecting pic is a good conversation starter for fests and a plus for collections devoted to the pragmatic glory of pre-gentrification urban architecture.
Shot on location in city streets (including atop the normally off-limits Brooklyn Bridge) in the 12 months following Sept. 11, 2001, appealing venture blends urban soul-searching and pavement-pounding work ethic perfectly embodied by Argo as Hugo, a loan shark who takes pride in his profession, even if his line of work consists of menacing people.
Ornery Hugo bemoans the lack of “real” New Yorkers, a breed he can spot with the practiced eye of a champion bird-watcher. What he’s talking about is an all-embracing no-nonsense moxie familiar to non-New Yorkers from the characters played in movies by the likes of Argo. Hence, his focused railing rings true as in a short soliloquy to Howard Johnson’s — a rare survivor in the new “improved” Times Square.
Pic can be read as a tormented old man cracking up or as a tale of late-arriving spirituality in an unlikely package. The idea that everybody has to “pay” finds different avenues of expression, including the fact that Archie (Jordan Lage), Hugo’s dead partner, pops up for impromptu conversations.
Pic plays with time and space and visits the spiritual plane via basic but effective sound and camera technique. A thesp one micron less crusty than Argo could not have pulled this off, but his thug with a guilty conscience act works more often than not as the tough guy with no sounding board for his musings about the divine.