30 August 2010

Review: "Get Low"

I rushed from one end of the city to the other after a job interview to go see Get Low, the directorial debut from Aaron Schneider that stars Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek. All three actors enjoyed considerable success before I was ever very interested in film. Robert Duvall received three Oscar nominations in the 1970s before winning Best Actor in 1983 for Tender Mercies. Sissy Spacek may be best known for her starring role in Carrie (1976) but she is a six-time Oscar nominee, winning in 1980 for Coal Miner's Daughter. Bill Murray showed us his comedic skills in the the 1980s and early 1990s with roles in Ghostbusters, Scrooged, and Groundhog Day before having a career renaissance in the 2000s with the help of Wes Anderson and an Oscar-nominated performance in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation (2003). These three incredibly talented actors, along with the youthful charm of Lucas Black, make Get Low a powerfully emotional film. It is a shame that this film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009 and has only been released now. This is definitely the type of film that is driven by characters and the central performance by Robert Duvall is what will resonate long after Get Low is over.

Felix Bush (Duvall) is a hermit and lives deep in the woods in a small Tennessee town during the 1930s. The townspeople all have their own stories about Felix and it is widely speculated that he killed someone in cold blood. One day he goes to town and offers a wad of cash for a living funeral. He wants to be present while people share stories about him. He is approached by Buddy Robinson (Black), the protege of the local funeral home owner Frank Quinn (Murray). Quinn expects to earn a sizable amount and uses Buddy to over Felix. The three men begin to plan a living funeral and Buddy soon learns that the reason for the funeral is for Felix to reveal a secret that he has kept for forty years that involves the recently widowed Mattie Darrow (Spacek), a woman with whom Felix once had a relationship.

For almost a year, since last year's Toronto International Film Festival, I have heard and read so many great things about Robert Duvall's performance in Get Low. To add insult to injury it seemed like there was a preview before every film I saw this spring. Now I have finally seen the film and I did enjoy it. It is similar to other films about aging men who are trying to make amends (see Jeff Bridges' Oscar-winning performance in Crazy Heart) and the success of these films is fully dependent on character and performance. Without Robert Duvall's wonderful performance the film would lack heart and the audience would not empathize with his character. It is fantastic to see three great veteran actors working alongside each other to bring such a quirky story to life.
Besides the actors I must also single out the screenwriters who scripted a wonderful film. Get Low was written by C. Gaby Mitchell and Chris Provenzano (who was a writer for the first season of Mad Men) and is loosely based on a true story that look place in Tennessee in 1938. Get Low is a great film to see this summer during the later part of the summer when the studios seems satisfied to offer us Vampires Suck and Eat, Pray, Love. Maybe some younger moviegoers will even want to see Robert Duvall's great performance in The Godfather (1972) or The Apostle (1997), a film written, directed and starring Robert Duvall.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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