Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek Elevate Drama ‘Get Low’

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Average: 3.8 (6 votes) Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – What could possibly drive a man into such a deep pit of despair that he would choose to break from society and take on the life of a hermit? The mystery of such a decision is the driving force behind Aaron Schneider’s “Get Low,” a based-on-a-true-story drama that has already earned Oscar buzz for star Rubert Duvall and praise for co-stars Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black, and Bill Cobbs.

“Get Low” is the tale of a man reaching for one final change at forgiveness, redemption, and confession before he “got low” six feet underground. Driven by one of the year’s best performances by one of the best actors that ever lived, “Get Low” casts a light into a life lived in darkness. Is there anything you can dream up that would be so horrible that you would leave everything behind, make a mule your only companion, and live a life in the woods with nothing but your fading memories? Schneider’s film hinges a bit too strongly on the “mystery” of that question, forcing the audience to mentally play the guessing game with its lead character’s past and the supporting cast is nowhere near as well-drawn and believable as the center of the piece, but it’s worth seeing for Duvall’s performance alone and it heralds the arrival of a very interesting and creative young director in Schneider.

Get Low
Get Low
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is a blend of irascible old coot and urban legend to those who have crossed his path or merely heard the many stories about his unusual behavior. He’s introduced to us walking up a hill to his cabin and firing a shotgun in the air. He’s clearly not a man to be messed with, but time stops for no one and when he’s confronted with both the death of an old friend and a brush with mortality himself, Felix rides his cart into town and asks a local funeral director named Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) to hold a “living funeral” for him.

With the help of Frank’s wide-eyed employee Buddy (Lucas Black), the home will hold a party in which everyone who’s ever heard a story about Felix will come and tell it to the masses. Bush makes the offer more enticing by adding a raffle of his own property to those who attend. Why not give it to a stranger? He has no family and no friends and, as they say, you can’t take it with you.

The plan is that Felix will listen to the urban legends and end the event by finally telling his own dark story. Why? It’s unclear what exactly Felix hopes to accomplish and I don’t mean to spoil the ending for anyone but he’s certainly not a character who demands anyone “understands him.” Personally, I think he just needs to share in an effort to understand himself before he dies.

Get Low
Get Low
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Sissy Spacek appears as an old acquaintance of Felix’s named Mattie who helps draw him out of his shell in the days leading up to the event and the great character actor Bill Cobbs nearly steals the film as a Reverend who refuses to tell Frank’s story for him unless he turns to God for forgiveness. Felix isn’t asking for religious redemption. Even if he did believe in that kind of thing, he probably wouldn’t even think he deserves it.

Schneider opens his film with a shot of a man running from a burning house. It’s obviously a clue as to what has driven Felix into his life of pain but I think it’s the director’s biggest mistake in a film without many of them. Because of that opening shot, I found myself too often losing the realism and the characters of the piece in favor if the mystery as to what could have happened on that fire-kissed night. What could possibly be so awful to lead what is clearly a good man down a dark path?

Get Low
Get Low
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

I think there’s a stronger film in “Get Low” in which we know Felix’s story before the final act and it becomes a piece about the act of sharing it with the people in the final chapter of his life instead of a “reveal.” The scenes that truly work in “Get Low” have little or nothing to do with why Felix is a hermit or his dark history. The moments between Duvall and Spacek are movie gold; a gift to those of us who have been fans of theirs for years. I could watch Felix and Mattie sit in his candlelit cabin in the woods and discuss times gone by for hours. Spacek’s character is underwritten, but both actors are as good as they’ve ever been.

Bill Murray and Lucas Black are great too but Buddy is criminally underwritten. This is a major role, the one that shares the most screen time with Felix, but he too often feels like a plot device instead of a well-rounded character. I wished the scenes without Duvall, as few of them as there are, were as interesting as the ones with him.

Ultimately, it’s impossible not to recommend “Get Low” just for Duvall’s work alone. He’s a timeless actor who is still delivering performances as impressive as he ever has nearly half a century after playing Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mockingbird”. In a summer filled with films that didn’t include any worthwhile performances at all, a drama like this with one amazing one and several good ones demands your attention.

“Get Low” stars Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, and Bill Cobbs. It was written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell and directed by Aaron Schneider. It is rated PG-13 and opens on August 6th, 2010. content director Brian Tallerico

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