Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Movie Review: Get Low

Get Low *** ½
Directed By:
Aaron Schneider.
Written By: Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell.
Starring: Robert Duvall (Felix Bush), Sissy Spacek (Mattie Darrow), Bill Murray (Frank Quinn), Lucas Black (Buddy), Gerald McRaney (Rev. Gus Horton), Bill Cobbs (Rev. Charlie Jackson), Scott Cooper (Carl), Lori Beth Edgeman (Kathryn).

Robert Duvall is perhaps the only actor in the world who make a character like Felix Bush seem believable. Duvall is an actor capable of great realism in his performances - he gets under the skin of his characters, and grounds them is a reality that is all his own making. He has been best playing charcters from the South - Lonesome Dove, Tender Mercies and his very best performance in The Apostle for example - and Felix Bush is another of these strange, eccentric characters that he breathes life into.

Bush is a hermit in a small town in America in the first half of 20th Century America. He has lived in house in the middle of the woods for almost 40 years. The rumors about him have taken on a life of their own in the years he has been locked away up there. No one is quite sure anymore of what exactly he did, but they are all positive that it is bad, and that he is not welcome there. But Bush comes anyway, for the first time in years. Why? Because he wants to organize his own funeral. The catch? He wants to be there, and before he’s dead as well. He likes the young Buddy (Lucas Black), who works at the local funeral home because he doesn’t lie to him - not even about what he thinks he knows about him. Buddy works for Frank (Bill Murray) who is very short on money, so he is willing to do anything that Bush wants. And when Bush decides he wants to invite EVERYONE, the whole thing becomes a circus, which simply makes Frank happier. Further complicating things is the arrival in town of Mattie (Sissy Spacek), who was once a local who knew Felix quite well and may well know his secret.

The movie is built around the performances of the actors, as well as the secret that Bush keeps right up until the finale of the movie. If there is a flaw in the film its that the secret, when it is finally revealed, is a bit anticlimactic. But is there really any secret that would not be so? The problem often when a build a movie around a secret like this, that the result is almost always anticlimactic.

But luckily the performances in the movie are pretty much perfect. Duvall carries the movie - starting out as a seemingly crazy old hermit with a bushy beard, wild hair who rarely says anything and is more likely to shot you than talk to you. But as the movie progresses, Duvall reveals hidden layers of Bush’s character, revealing himself to a lot more intelligent and thoughtful then we first thought he was. He carries the movie because if we do not believe in his character, we don’t buy the movie - and Duvall does do a great job.

The supporting cast is also excellent. Bill Murray has transformed himself in the last decade or so into one of the best comedic character actors out there. With the exception of Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers, his best work in the past few years has been in support, and his work here is no exception. He is a likable, charming and funny, even though we never really trust him, and know that he isn’t really that nice of a character. Sissy Spacek brings a wounded integrity and sweetness to her role. She was hurt in the past and has spent years essentially hiding from it, not unlike Bush did, but now that she is back, she still doesn’t quite want to deal with it. Lucas Black continues his string of strong performances, but he is still looking for that breakout role. He is our conduit into this world, and he does a good job, but the fact remains he is the least interesting character here. In smaller roles two old pros, Dabney Coleman and Bill Cobb, give color to their brief roles.

Get Low is a movie that slowly draws you into its mysteries and its characters. I liked the movie because I never really knew what to expect next. Yes, this movie does feel scripted, but it also feels different. Yes, the ending doesn’t quite work, but everything right up until then works wonderfully Duvall. This is what happens when you have an intelligent screenplay and cast the right actors and just let them go. The film deserves a better resolution, not because the one that it has is a cheat - but because everything that leads up to it is too good to have this ending.

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