REVIEW: Robert Duvall and Co. Make for Classy, Splendid Get Low
There are four great faces in Aaron Schneider's debut feature Get Low. One of them belongs to a mule -- a grumpy but elegant beast with bright eyes and mischievous, snorty lips -- but a great face is a great face, and you take them anywhere you can find them.
Another of those faces belongs to Robert Duvall, who plays Felix Bush, a hermit living in rural '30s Tennessee. Felix neither is nor looks like a particularly friendly guy: His icy eyes preside over a wiry gray beard that, long untended, has forked off into two pointy Brillo Pads. Little kids throw rocks at his windows. The aforementioned mule, who may be nearly as old as he is but not nearly so stubborn, is his only companion. (At one point Felix angrily posts a sign on his property, reading "No Damn Trespassing. Beware of Mule," though it's not clear exactly which mule he's talking about.) When he hitches his four-legged friend to a wagon and goes into town, the locals taunt him; he has, they claim, done some terrible things in his past, although beyond a passel of murky rumors, no one can name anything specific.
Felix does have a secret (its genesis is hinted at in the movie's striking opening shot), and at one point he might even have had a girlfriend: He hangs a misty-looking portrait of a beautiful young woman near his bed, and he pours his soul out to it, insofar as he's able, each night. He's clearly haunted by some deep-running trauma, and knowing his days on Earth are numbered, he rides into town one day and hands a wad of compressed bills over to the owner of the local funeral home, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), asking for what he calls a "funeral party," to be held while he's still alive -- he wants everyone to come with a story about him. And around that time, he also reconnects with a woman who may have been an old flame, Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek); she's also, in fact, the only person on the planet who's genuinely happy to see him.
The tale that unravels from that intriguing premise isn't, in the end, as satisfying as it should be: The big revelation, which Schneider builds toward with a great deal of care and precision, doesn't live up to the preamble. But the pleasures Get Low offers lie in the process of simply getting there, in watching performers take material that has some limitations (the script, inspired by a true story, is by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell) and turn it into something that has the rough-hewn, no-nonsense veracity of folk music. The picture is beautifully shot by David Boyd (a veteran of the late, lamented Deadwood): He captures the Kodachrome contrast of rugged gray trees against bright blue sky, and his interiors have a burnished, worn-velvet glow. And every actor here -- including Lucas Black, as Buddy, Frank Quinn's principled young apprentice, and Bill Cobb, as a blunt preacher who urges Felix, with little success, to seek forgiveness from the Lord -- appears completely at ease within the movie's landscape. They never make the picture feel corny or aggressively "period," and they're completely in tune with its dry humor, its language and its rhythms.
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