Duvall gets down to the business of stellar acting
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, August 13, 2010
"Get Low" may be opening in Washington on Friday the 13th, but that should prove to be a lucky date for Robert Duvall, because his performance in this quiet, affecting drama is a veritable shoo-in for an Oscar nomination -- his seventh, that lucky number effectively canceling out the day's superstitious karma.
Duvall's character, Felix Bush, probably wouldn't abide by all this mumbo jumbo. A recluse living in the woods outside a small Southern town during the Depression, Felix has the long gray beard of someone plucked straight from the pages of the Old Testament; a man of mystery and menace, he's something of a local legend in town, where people whisper about Felix's past sins, which may or may not include murder.
Fed up with the gossip, Felix decides to throw his own funeral, just to hear what people say about him. He enlists the help of the local undertakers, a sober, sincere apprentice named Buddy (Lucas Black) and Buddy's boss, a sardonic sharpie named Frank Quinn (Bill Murray). "Is it just me, or is he extremely articulate when he wants to be?" Frank quips at one point, his Murrayesque deadpan providing the subtle comic thread that lifts and animates this tale, which toggles as comfortably between solemnity and whimsy as the most cherished front-porch yarn.
That tonal balance is a credit to first-time director Aaron Schneider, who handles "Get Low" -- based on the real-life Tennessee legend Felix "Bush" Breazeale -- with taste and assurance. Burnished with the amber glow of nostalgia and period detail, the movie offers welcome respite from the shiny, cacophonous fare usually offered during the summer. And it affords Duvall a terrific role, harking back to his screen debut as one of literature's great loners, Boo Radley. If the 79-year-old actor hams it up just a tad during a climactic moment, he's entitled, having played Felix with such terse restraint up until that point that filmgoers will be dying finally to hear his life's mystery solved.
One of the nicest things about "Get Low" is seeing Duvall opposite Sissy Spacek, who plays an old acquaintance of Felix's; the pair possesses the unforced chemistry of two great friends and fellow troupers relishing the opportunity simply to work with one another. And who wouldn't tuck into the script by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell, which exploits but never overplays the local vernacular. (The title is another way of saying "getting down to business"; later, Felix explains of a past lady friend, "We had a go.")
With its rough-hewn poetics, suspenseful momentum and dashes of humor, "Get Low" offers a shot of simple joy during cinema's most torrid season. It's as soothing and pure as the sweetest water from the deepest well.
Contains thematic material and brief violent content.