Since Robert Duvall made his speechless film debut as Boo Radley in To Kill A Mocking Bird in 1962, he has continued to be one of our most reliable actors. Along with Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Al Pacino, he's one of the few living performers on the verge of "Screen Legend" class. For the past 10 years or so Duvall has been reclusive, primarily doing extended cameos in movies like Crazy Heart and Thank You For Smoking. In Get Low the 79-year-old actor gives his best leading man performance in some time.
Duvall plays Felix Bush, a grizzly bearded hermit who has been living in a cabin just outside of town for 40 years. The townsfolk still gossip about his mysterious past and are provoked simply to be around him. When Felix has a near-death experience one night he begins to realize that he's going to die sooner than later. Felix decides to throw himself a funeral party before he even passes. At this party he will raffle off his land and try to set the record straight about a terrible deed he supposedly committed years ago. Felix hires a funeral home owner, played by Bill Murray, and his partner, played by Lucas Black, to help get his affairs in order.
In the beginning Felix is made out to be a standard crotchety old man who scares children off his property and puts up "Stay Away" signs. As the film unfolds, though, we slowly come to care about this shell of a man seeking forgiveness, but cannot quite bring himself to confess his sins. Through his pursuit for deliverance, Felix rekindles a friendship with Mattie, a former lover played by Sissy Spacek, also in a strong performance. The audience expects this relationship to go one way. The screenplay by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell takes an unexpected twist, though, and becomes more than a tale of a second chance at romance.
As wonderful as Duvall and Spacek are, I think the film's best performance comes from Murray as Frank. Murray brings his trademark droll sarcasm to the role, providing some of the movie's funniest lines. But like the rest of the ensemble, there turns out to be more to his character as well. At first Frank only seems interested in making some cash off of Felix. It's eventually revealed that Frank, too, is looking for redemption though and wants to see Felix find peace as well. Murray is humorous and at the same time consoling here. Many felt he should have won the Oscar for Lost in Translation a few years ago. While it may be a little early to be placing award wagers, I wouldn't be surprised if the Academy compensated for Murray's loss by granting him a "Best Supporting Actor" award.
This is the debut feature from Director Aaron Schneider, who won an Oscar for his short film, Two Soldiers. Just as first-time director Scott Cooper did in Crazy Heart last year, Schneider has made a great film about an aging man seeking salvation. Get Low is a wise and optimistic film comprised of one of the year's most memorable protagonists. As for Duvall, he has reminded us all that he is one of the matchless treasures of cinema's past 50 years, not that we needed reminding.