Director: Aaron Schneider
“They keep talking about forgiveness. Ask Jesus for forgiveness. I never did nothing to Him…”
Felix Bush has lived a hermit’s life for over 40 years, keeping himself away from Thirties society in his cabin in the woods. He is the subject of local gossip, with stories constantly circulating about the possible evils of his past. When Felix feels his time may be coming, he engages the services of funeral director Frank Quinn to arrange a funeral party which he himself can attend, inviting everyone to come and tell the stories they have heard about him. However, Felix himself has a story to tell. The truth.
As we enter 2011, it has become understandably rare to see performances from that older generation of actors who made the Seventies one of the best decades in cinema. Of those that survive Gene Hackman has all but retired, Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford are content to stay behind the camera, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Diane Keaton have been reduced to mediocre comedies and Al Pacino’s appearances are few and far between. Perhaps this says more about the dearth of quality roles for actors over a certain age than it does for the career choices of the actors themselves, but it is certainly cinema’s loss.
So it is a great pleasure to settle down with a new film from the great Robert Duvall, one of my favourites. After all, even if the film itself is bad at least you know you’ll be getting a great performance. Luckily, Get Low isn’t a bad movie by any measure. It just isn’t a great one, either.
As the enigmatic and taciturn Felix Bush, Duvall gently and quietly steals every scene he is in, even from that champion of scene-stealers, Bill Murray, who turns in one of his now trademark understated performances as shady funeral director Frank Quinn. It is Quinn, unfortunate enough to have set up shop in a town where everyone lives long, who sets about arranging the funeral party for Bush. The story unfolds slowly, as you are allowed to warm to the mysterious old hermit despite the dark rumours about his past which are bandied about.
As you might expect from a debut movie from a cinematographer, Get Low looks wonderful. The period detail is impressive and the locations magical. There is a graceful turn from Sissy Spacek as Bush’s old flame Mattie, whose appearance serves up clues to Bush’s secret. However, it is with this central revelation that Get Low ultimately disappoints. Having spent an hour and a half leaving you to guess just what it was that made Felix Bush decide to withdraw from the town and live in the forest for 40 years, the movie faces a near impossible task of presenting a story that satisfies. Perhaps that is point, that truth can never live up to rumour, but you may still find yourself short-changed as the credits roll.
Get Low is a gentle, sometimes moving tale. Like its protagonist, it moves at the pace it wants to and speaks when it feels like it. And though the story may ultimately fail to live up to its promise, this is still a compelling character study from a great actor who has lost none of his spark, and whose every appearance is now precious.