Originally Reviewed – 9/3/2010
Saying Robert Duvall has made himself one heck of a film career could be the understatement of the year. Despite being one of the most celebrated American actors working today, Duvall hasn’t really had many starring roles as of late. With a cameo in Crazy Heart here and few lines in The Road there, Duvall has become one of those actors that you see in a film and say while smiling, “Ahhh…that’s Robert Duvall”. However, not since his Academy Award nominated performance in 1997’s The Apostle has Duvall really showed his stuff as a leading actor and no, Gods and Generals doesn’t count because that film stunk. So, to see Duvall take a stab at an intensely emotional starring role really made me stand up and take notice. Luckily for me, Duvall does not disappoint in Get Low as he puts forth another classic performance, one that should get him a look or two for a Best Actor nomination.
In the film, Duvall plays Felix Bush, a curmudgeonly old hermit who has sequestered himself in his densely wooded farmhouse for over forty years. The year is 1930 and Bush has become quite the folk story for the citizens of the lonely Tennessee town that borders his land. Because of these wild stories, Bush decides to come out of seclusion and with the help of a local funeral director, played by Bill Murray, starts to plan his own funeral. Naturally, there’s a catch: Bush not only wants to attend his own funeral while he’s still alive, he wants to invite everybody in the county that has a story about him and have them tell those tales. What happens next is a touching tale of owning up to the past and confronting ones mortality that cements both Robert Duvall and Bill Murray as acting greats.
Much has been written about Duvall’s performance and all I can say is that the accolades are well deserved. Duvall gives the character of Felix Bush a number of different textures; initially Bush looks to be a miserly old hermit but as the film goes on, you see shades of who he was before the incident that caused him to shy away from the world, especially when he interacts with his old flame, played wonderfully by Sissy Spacek. With Spacek, Bush warms up and projects the charm of an old world gentleman while still maintaining the veneer of grittiness that is the core of the character. While Duvall does err on the side of overacting on occasion, the real triumph of his performance is how connected he is with the events of the film. The story is really about confronting mistakes from the past and Duvall, at the age of 79, brings a sense of personal world weariness to the role that is quite profound. Watching Duvall dig deep into his own fears of mortality and project them on screen is quite moving and makes up for any lapses in his performance.
The rest of the cast is equally superb. Bill Murray, who should also get a look for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, is brilliant as the town funeral director. Murray has perfected the art or wry comedy and gives the film some humorous flavor while still maintaining a sharp acting performance. Top marks also have to be given to Spacek and Lucas Black as Murray’s protégé in the funeral business. First time director, Aaron Schneider, also deserves credit for maintaining an even tone throughout the film, even though it does play a bit slow in some of the middle sections. Make no mistake, this is a patient movie that plays out almost like a theater production and as a result, has the same magnetic ability to drawn the audience in.
Filled with outstanding performances, solid directing and a final reveal that ties the whole experience together, Get Low is one of the better movies to come out this summer. While the movie does seem to take a while to reach a somewhat predictable conclusion, the quality of acting on display overshadows any missteps in the filmmaking or lapses in the storytelling. A homespun yarn of revelation, self-forgiveness and facing one’s imminent demise, Get Low is a rough jewel in an otherwise bland summer season. There may be more exciting pictures in the cinemas right now, but there are few that features two American icons at the top of their game telling a story that nobody wants to see yet everybody ought to.
Score – 80%