Get Low Review

(3.5 STARS)

In the face of tragedy, people often do strange things. In Get Low, a guilt-ridden man completely shuts himself off from others. He builds himself a prison of isolation in which to punish himself, and nearly 40 years later, he still hasn’t quite come to terms with his mistake. The film, from rookie director Aaron Schneider, is a fascinating character study anchored by an absolutely sensational performance from the great Robert Duvall. Its trajectory is familiar and predictable, but it overcomes that with charming characters, some sly humor, and genuine pathos.

The film takes place in the backwoods South around the 1930s. Felix Bush (Duvall) lives alone with his mule and shotgun on a large piece of wooded property. He doesn’t venture into town very often and insists that no one trespass on his land. Upon learning about the death of an acquaintance, however, Felix decides to meet with a local funeral parlor director, Frank (Bill Murray), and his assistant Buddy (Lucas Black), to plan Felix’s funeral. But in typical Felix fashion, he wants to do things a little differently. He wants to throw himself a “funeral party,” and he has every intention of making a live appearance at this party. Frank is very short on cash, so he obliges to this odd request, and the three men start making the arrangements. It soon becomes clear, however, that Felix has some real skeletons in his closet (which may have something to do with Mattie (Sissy Spacek), a local woman whom Felix hasn’t seen in years), and this party is going to be his chance to gain the peace that has eluded him for so long.

It’s not unreasonable to expect greatness from an actor as good as Robert Duvall every time he steps in front of a camera. But his work in Get Low is simply exquisite—one of the best performances of his long, illustrious career. He fully embraces the crotchety hermit that is Felix Bush, while still making him decent enough that we care about his journey. His relationships with each of the three main supporting characters are well-developed and important to the film, but his finest moment without a doubt is the party scene. Here, Duvall acts his heart out without ever going over-the-top (like he does once or twice in the film’s first half-hour or so). It’s the scene that could get him an Oscar nomination.

The rest of the cast is quite good, as well. Bill Murray plays a role he’s done many times in the past—that of the dry, sarcastic sidekick—but he’s good at it. Much of Get Low’s humor (and there’s a good amount of it) comes from him. Sissy Spacek doesn’t have a ton to do (her character is a vessel for Felix to gain the courage he needs to speak), but she makes the most out of her limited screen time. Lucas Black has a more difficult role. It’s not a showy part, but he has to keep this trio anchored to planet Earth. There are a few occasions during which Felix or Frank seems to be a little too quirky and strange to seem realistic, but Buddy is always there to crank down the crazy.

For a first time director, Get Low is a very assured piece of work. It helps to have such fine actors in roles tailor-made to their strong suits, but I’d say Aaron Schneider is certainly a talent to watch out for. His sense of time and place is impeccable, and he avoids going too mawkish or overly sentimental with his material. I never thought Get Low was forcing me to feel anything; everything came naturally. He shows some refreshing restraint in that department—something many veteran directors fail to do.

There are a few missteps along the way (a moment or two of exceptionally odd behavior from the characters, a couple awkward shifts in tone), but overall, Get Low is an emotional journey worth taking.

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