Robert Duvall has been playing
spirited old men for more than twenty years, and now pushing eighty,
Duvall has found what might be the best of these roles in Felix Bush,
the protagonist of Aaron Schneider's directorial debut, Get Low.
Throughout his varied career as an actor and filmmaker, Duvall has established
himself as a prolific, professional, committed, and always compelling
presence, performing in a strong mixture of big-budget Hollywood movies
and tiny independent films - although his contributions to smaller
films usually guarantee an automatic enlargement of sorts. Whatever
the project's scale, Duvall can be depended upon to provide some combination
of down-to-earth sincerity, genuine heart, and, occasionally, an unpredictable
ferocity. Get Low is a showcase for Duvall, and the character
of Felix Bush is layered in way that allows the actor to explore an
uncommonly broad portion of his range.
Get Low opens with Felix
Bush chasing children off his property - a grizzled, bearded, ancient
old coot living out in the middle of nowhere in a tiny cabin with a
small adjacent barn. It's the early 1930s, or thereabouts, and
the surrounding town has buzzed with rumors about Felix for several
decades - that he's a killer and a beast, and who knows what else.
One day, Felix makes his way into town for a meeting with the undertaker,
Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and his associate Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black),
and requests that they "make him a funeral party" - at which Felix
himself plans to be present. The idea is that all the townsfolk
- in fact, all the residents of the nearest four or five counties
- will be invited to attend and tell a story about Felix. For
this service, Bush promises Quinn a healthy sum. And, to promote
the event, Felix offers the bequest of his land, to be awarded by lottery
at the "funeral."
The plot turns mostly on Felix's
motivations for hosting this bizarre event, which have to do with the
reason he's been hiding out in the woods by himself for four decades.
When an old flame returns to town (played by Sissy Spacek), things become
Get Low is anchored
by its uniformly outstanding cast, starting with the powerhouse performance
by Duvall in the lead. His Felix is a mysterious, withdrawn manipulator
who is also likable, temperamental, and masochistic. Duvall tackles
the job with great energy, applying his enormous talent to a role that
dominates the picture without a whole lot of dialogue - Bush is a
man who uses exactly as many words as he needs to and never repeats
himself. Duvall conveys this through an aged confidence and his
usual mannerisms: licking his lips, pressing on his chest with his hands,
and making bizarre wind-like noises - all of which continue to work
But Duvall's is hardly the
lone performance of interest. As Quinn, Murray is perfectly cast.
Quinn is a failed salesman from Chicago, who has recently remade himself
as an undertaker in this small Southern town. He drinks, dresses
flashily, and sports a pencil moustache - all of which contribute
to his fish-out-water demeanor. Murray invests Quinn with an urban
opportunism that is slowly but surely foiled by Felix's odd combination
of decency and determination. As always, Murray is appealing and
funny as this would-be shyster who finds himself baffled into honesty.
Quinn's assistant, Buddy, is played by Lucas Black as a conservative,
earnest young man in whom grows a real affection for the oddball Bush.
And the formidable Sissy Spacek is affecting as Felix's one-time lover,
who finds herself jilted all over again under a new set of circumstances.
Seasoned cinematographer Aaron
Schneider brings a sensitive eye to his directorial debut, which is
photographed beautifully by David Boyd. There is a point in the
last third of the film where the storytelling becomes confused - almost
beyond repair. The solid script by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby
Mitchell is patient, allowing its characters to evolve and change in
interesting, subtle ways - and in this respect, the script is a gift
to the film's actors. But in its last third, some strange, seemingly
arbitrary things occur that are without precedent - and the film's
resolution, while generally sound, is pushed a little off-balance by
this handful of scenes. In the interest of avoiding spoilers,
I will just say that Bush says and does a couple of things that I felt
were out of character, and his motivations begin to feel less consistent
than they were up to that point. I also have a couple of reservations
about the actual funeral sequence, which, despite its prolonged set-up,
doesn't include a single "tall tale" from party guests.
Among other things, Get
Low comprises a wonderful group of performances by a dream cast.
These actors all deserve to be in the running for 2010's major awards.
The film rests on the solid foundation of its fascinating, funny, mysterious
characters, and is lovingly shot and edited by first-timer Aaron Schneider.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.