The M/C Review: 'Get Low' marks a high point for Robert Duvall and Bill Murray
Southern period character comedy seems like a hit in-waiting.
It's my understanding that "Get Low" does not have a theatrical distributor yet.
Yet being the key word.
Because someone is going to pick this film up, and when they do, they're going to make a bucket of money for their troubles. Depending on when and how they release the film, it could easily be an Oscar-nomination stealth missle for the great Robert Duvall. That's not to say this one of those one-man-show Oscar-bid-for-an-old-guy movies. Aaron Schneider, working from a warm and simple script by C. Gaby Mitchell and Chris Provenzano, has crafted a really lovely movie, and the entire ensemble does great work.
So come on... what are you distributors waiting for?
Robert Duvall stars as Felix Bush, a hermit who has been known as a nearly-mythological figure of fear for the residents of his local town and county for almost 40 years. They never name the year specifically, but it's got to be set in the '20s or '30s. The real Felix Bush whose story inspired the film threw his own funeral so he could be there in 1938. Times are tough, obviously, and Frank Quinn's funeral home is going down in flames, bankruptcy looming. In walks Felix, a wad of "hermit money" in his fist, demanding something unusual. He wants to throw a funeral party. And he wants to hear the stories everyone tells about him. All of them.
[more after the jump]
There's more to it than that, of course, and in a way, the film never really pays off the idea of us hearing those stories from the townspeople. Still, the gentle twists of the narrative and the way Schneider gradually peels back the onion of Duvall's character is all pure pleasure. The period is handled with elegance and restraint, and there's a gentle sense of humor to the movie overall. It's never broad or obvious. Once the film takes a more serious turn towards the end, it's not out of the blue. It earns the sentiment it's obviously reaching for at times, and with a cast this god, you can survive some major tonal shifts. They know how to make it all seem natural.
Duvall's persona at first feels like a 50-years-later riff on his iconic work as Boo Radley, but the secrets the two men keep are very different. It's funny how the film starts with a very particular image, and it sets a certain tone, and then the first few minutes, you think maybe this is some heavy Southern gothic thing... and then abruptly, the film starts introducing character comedy. More and more as the film goes. I like how there's a moment early on with Duvall chopping wood that seems to be included to show that he may be old, but there's nothing frail about him. There's a touch of the Great Santini in the way this guy is constantly pushing and testing people with surgical precision.
Bill Murray, in full-on national treasure mode, turns even his simplest lines into honeyed gold, crowd pleasers that rocked the Ryerson consistently for the whole film. One of the things I love about his work is how obviously he's enjoying everyone else's work, too. That's all it really takes to keep Bill Murray happy, evidently... people who are as good as he is, all working hard. He plays most of his scenes opposite Duvall or, even more, Lucas Black, all grown up since "Sling Blade," seems to be polishing his craft these days without losing the open innocence that has marked his work since day one. Sissy Spacek, always a welcome addition to any film, plays a woman from Felix's past who features prominently in whatever the big secret is that Felix is guarding. She plays both sad and sweet without ladling it on too heavy. the town, which seems like it's going to be be a major character in the film a la a Bill Forsythe film, sort of ends up out of focus by the end of the movie. By the time the funeral party rolls around, we don't get to hear those stories because the townspeople are just extras.
Considering what the film does focus on instead, though, it's a small complaint. This is a strong feature directorial debut for cinematographer Aaron Schneider, and his DP here, David Boyd, was his collaborator on the Oscar-winning short film "Two Soldiers" a few years back. They obviously make a potent team. And as much as it's a promising debut, it's also a lovely summation of all the things that are great about a great Robert Duvall performance. And beyond even that, it's a sweet, gentle, and occasionally shocking look at how redemption is always within reach, as long as we're still drawing breath.
Special thanks to 42 West for their help with this one.
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