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2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Get Low
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by Erik Childress

"It Is Duvall's Time"
4 stars

There are movies that exist in the glow of their greenlight to be a showcase for certain actors. Last year's Crazy Heart was a perfect example of a simple story tailor made for a virtuous actor to do his thing. The film was not much to look at other than Jeff Bridges' performance, but that was where our eyes were and it was enough to get the man an overdue Oscar. Get Low appears to have the same sort of pedigree behind it. We have one of the best and most respected actors in anyone's book, Robert Duvall, as a surly outcast of his own doing under the guidance of a first-time feature director. Gosh, Crazy Heart's director, Scott Cooper, is even featured in a small supporting part. The difference is that Get Low is more than just the sum of a single performance. It is a genuine, often hilarious period piece with Aaron Schneider firmly in control of an impressive lineup of actors and a smoothly inviting script. The similarity is that another virtuous actor may just walk away with an Oscar again.

Duvall is Felix Bush, an old hermit in 1930s Tennessee. He's just the sort of codger that children love to dare each other to knock on his door. And run away from when he comes out with his shotgun. The townsfolk have built up their own legends about the man who has lived off the radar for forty-some years and, though he is not demonstrative, he can't ride in without being stared at or harassed. Time is catching up to Felix and he feels it in his chest. With a wad of money in his pocket, he attempts to make arrangements for his own funeral with local priest Horton (Gerald McRaney). Seeing this as an attempt to buy forgiveness without owning up to his past, he is turned away. But not before another young man hears part of his story.

That young man is Buddy (Lucas Black), a happily married family man working as an assistant to an ailing funeral home. People are not dying, laments the home's owner Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), certainly not like in Chicago where people know how and when to die. Frank's eyes light up at the prospect of "hermit money" and they approach Felix to make plans for the end. The old coot has a more novel idea though. Why wait until he is in the ground? Everyone seemingly has their own idea or a story they have of who Felix Bush really is and he wants to hear from them. Come to the funeral, tell a story and buy a raffle ticket for his land. Humorous as it might be to hear the lies and exaggerations at his behalf, Felix knows the real story of his life and it may involve the old love, Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek) who got married without him and the aging Reverend (Bill Cobbs) who is not ready to speak for the man.

Aaron Schneider gets our attention from the opening shot, a blazing inferno of shadow and mystery, captured beautifully by cinematographer David Boyd. That we will soon forget about this image as one of the keys to Felix's past is a true testament to Schneider's relaxed investment in the characters and slowly building our curiosity to the revelations. The screenplay by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell smartly takes a cue from its own lesson of not judging people by first appearance. This is no more true than in the case of Murray's funeral director who, at times, looks to be one slight gust on his moral compass away from exploiting Felix's wishes. Murray is no stranger to having that glazed-over look masking mischief. Over the years though he has developed into an actor who can not only deliver the zinger, but show a delicate empathy towards the company he keeps. Murray hasn't stolen scenes like this (on the record) from a greater spotlight since perhaps Tootsie and is the best work he has done since his Oscar-nominated turn in Lost In Translation. Duvall is not the only one deserving of award consideration here.

Still it is undeniable that a good portion of the praise is going to be reserved for him. Not because he has developed any new tricks or that this is somehow greater than anything he did in Apocalypse Now, Tender Mercies or The Apostle. Duvall is just being the actor he has always been and as a character harboring regret, anger and a secret we all want to hear, just about nobody else, living or below, can build such anticipation and hold our attention with the smallest of gestures. And when Felix finally gets to tell that story, watching Duvall pontificate its details must have been what it was like to see Socrates hold court or the living embodiment of some ancient prophet who can summon images before our very eyes with just a few words. Cutting to some of the key characters during this long-awaited moment is necessary, but if Aaron Schneider had the capacity to turn the camera on us and just focus on Duvall's face for the extent of his tale, it would be all the reaction shots he would need.

Get Low leaves a few dangling plot threads to be desired, even frustratingly so, including a break-in at the funeral home and leaving Spacek's Mattie out of the conversation down the stretch after a few nice ones with Felix. By that point it is so all about Duvall and Felix though that such things pass over quickly enough to not be a distraction until one starts wondering about them on the way out. Films about dying and forgiveness can be insufferable affairs built around people you would not hitch five minutes of your time to, let alone pardon, were it not a movie designed to activate your tear ducts at just the right moment - as the collective works of Nicholas Sparks can prove. No one will plead "too soon" at a wake or memorium for telling a humorous anecdote about the departed. Get Low is not so much about death as it is finding peace and through that somewhat uncomfortable discovery some wonderful humor comes forth, topped off usually by Murray who gets some of the best laughs from me that I've had all year. Nor is this is a wake for Robert Duvall, who shows no sign of slowing down and finding projects both big and small to augment with his presence. Suggesting that it is once again his time for golden recognition is not to imply that his work in Get Low is the trigger for a lifetime achievement. Just a reminder that Duvall is as deserving as any winner just about every time out and if it takes 27 years to remind us of that, then maybe the Oscar means less than ever.

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originally posted: 08/06/10 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Provincetown International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Provincetown International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/20/16 Anne would have benefitted from more character development, incredibly long 2 stars
6/08/11 mr.mike Not at all bad , a must for Duvall aficionados. 4 stars
2/23/11 GEORGE B. FEIST Duvall created quite a character and delivered it 4 stars
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  30-Jul-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 22-Feb-2011


  DVD: 22-Feb-2011

Directed by
  Aaron Schneider

Written by
  Chris Provenzano

  Bill Murray
  Robert Duvall
  Lucas Black
  Sissy Spacek
  Bill Cobbs
  Shawn Knowles

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