Directed by Aaron Scheider
Starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek, Bill Cobbs, Gerald McRaney, Lori-Beth Edgeman, Andrea Powell, Scott Cooper
Written by Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell
The human soul is a curious thing. It can go for years at a time helping the mind to deny certain truths, while at the same time, acting out on what it knows to be true. One thing the soul needs, though, is a connection to the light. Such is the case of Felix Bush (Duvall) in Get Low. As a hermit, living in a significant patch of land outside of town for as long as anyone can remember, he was a bogeyman for locals. Kids would come from miles around, throw rocks and run. He’d fire a couple of shots, and then watch them scatter at the presence of his mule. It is a special and peculiar man who communes with a mule.
Next we see him placing a sign on his property which suggests a similar sign posted on Lonesome Dove. Those who
can make that connection will find the sign is indicative on what is to come. After finding someone his age had passed on because he “just got old,” he heads into town, seeking to hold an event: his funeral. The trick to this event is that he would still be alive. The price of admission to the event is for those who come to share a story, true or not, about Bush.
Getting into a row with a local punk (Cooper, who directed Duvall in the wonderful Crazy Heart), his efforts are rebuffed by the local clergyman (McRaney). Present at that time is Buddy Robinson (Black), who works for the town Funeral Home, run by Frank Quinn (Murray). On the verge of bankruptcy in a town where people aren’t dying often enough to profit, Quinn is more than happy to push his young protegé, Buddy into making the “sale.”
Buddy, is a somber, thoughtful person, who has just become a father. He grew up hearing all the tall tales about Bush, pushes forward and secures Bush as a client. In the interim, Bush meets up with his old flame, Mattie (Spacek). Before sparks can ignite, she discovers the tip of an iceberg of a secret. What lay beneath the surface is a wound so deep and so wide…
The headlines to this movie were all about Murray, and to a lesser extent, Duvall. To be sure, they do a fine job. Murray is one of the finest actors on the planet. His ability to seamlessly fade into the background while offering up some of the best facial expressions is peerless. Here, he sis not asked to do so much, but he does it well. He is the vehicle that pushes forward the plot. A man with a questionable past with suspiciously simple dreams, he is not necessarily crooked, but he does not miss an opportunity to profit from transpiring events. He is so careful with his words that he cannot help but appear suspicious. That the subtleties of his performance are so hard to describe is a testament to how good it is.
Duvall is another one of the most original actors I have ever seen. This performance is tinged with the rueful longing that he
has expressed in other films, but like a good riff in a classical composition, it works in all of its forms. His expression of forthright honesty is counter to the way he is thought of by characters in the story, but it works well for him, so he does nothing to assuage the fears of those who don’t know any better. This works for Murray, as well. Their takes on supposedly bad turns, ignoring or embracing them, are counterintuitive and makes the subtle performance of Lucas Black’s Buddy all the more effective.
Buddy is the blank slate who serves as our eyes and ears to the events. Black has a remarkably open demeanor, accepting and at the same time discerning. His ability to be of the moment and allow us to be in it with us is a remarkable achievement for an actor. The tenderness and powers of observation he employs with his wife is indicative of his character. She says one thing, and he understands the other thing she is trying to say. Most people get into acting to be noticed, while Black’s ability as an actor is most noticeably his ability to pay attention. I have enjoyed him in good films (Sling Blade), average films (Friday Night Lights) and bad (Legion), and I look forward to what he is going to do in the future. His career should be a long one, and prosperous for the viewer.
Spacek is a much underused actress. She is so good and so varied in her performances. Her character, Mattie, starts off in one direction, but is hit by a revelation that she could not see coming, then she has to move on. It would have been easy to play her as a character constantly hiding from what she discovers, but like so many people, she learns to deal with it and move on. I am not sure I could picture too many actors or actresses that could change, but show that kind of consistency.
The direction is assured and quite humorous, given the subject. I could hang around all day in this town, just listening with Buddy. If there is one drawback, that would be predictability. Even with well drawn and acted characters, you cannot outrun a story that has been told before. Played well, though, one can feel the connectedness between their soul and the souls portrayed in the story. And that’s kind of the point.
So yeah, you can see the ending almost from the moment Bush asks the clergyman about his funeral. I can live with that, though, too. Aerosmith made a career out of stealing riffs, after all.
(****1/2 out of *****)