Robert Duvall, Lucas Black and Bill Murray in Get Low

Like Lisa Cholodenko’s festival darling The Kids Are All Right, Aaron Schneider’s Get Low is the rare crowd-pleaser that avoids obvious audience pandering and manages to leave its own unique imprint. With the great Robert Duvall giving his most engaging performance in years and Bill Murray delivering his classic deadpan cynicism in perfect counterpoint, the film deftly weaves drama, mystery and plenty of natural humor into a wholly entertaining summer confection. It might not rock your world, but it’ll make it a nicer place to be for a couple of hours.

Based on actual people and events, Get Low takes place in Depression era rural Tennessee. There, a crusty, wild-haired and nearly unrecognizable Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, the local hermit whose mysterious and violent past is the talk of the town. One day, Felix turns up with a wad of tattered cash looking to buy a funeral for himself – to be held while he’s still alive. Bill Murray is city transplant Frank Quinn, the town’s funeral director whose flagging business could use a little bit of “hermit money.” Meanwhile, Lucas Black is Quinn’s employee Buddy who wants to do right by both client and employer and Sissy Spacek is Mattie, Felix’s old flame.

The story is driven by the mystery surrounding Bush’s past and especially the circumstances involving his seclusion from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the screenplay cheats a little by leaving the true nature of the mystery mostly unspoken until the very end. We’re never exactly sure what it is Bush is supposed to have done. This makes it harder to predict – you can’t really solve a mystery if you don’t know exactly what the mystery is – but it strains story logic a bit. Buddy is kind of the audience surrogate so we should know whatever he knows. Having grown up in the town, surely he knows all the stories whether they’re rumor or fact, but he never sees fit to let the audience in on them.

If the screenplay is a little thin at times, it’s more than compensated for in the performances all around. I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed Robert Duvall as much in role. Felix Bush could easily have devolved into a stock crazy hermit character, but Duvall digs deep and finds Bush’s inner life and humanizes him. It’s another highlight in a career full of them.

As good as Duvall is (and he’s good enough for plenty of end-of-year awards attention), it’s the contrast provided by Bill Murray that really gives the film its energy. On its own, Get Low threatens to slide into a too-precious, folksy cuteness that would be overbearing without the dry, no bullshit, Chicago attitude that Murray brings. Plus, the two men’s opposing styles – Duvall’s burrowing preparedness vs. Murray’s loose cannon improvisation – spark off one another and raise the story above a few of its technical flaws.

While it’s Duvall and Murray’s show, Black and Spacek provide ample support. Black’s Buddy is a decent family man and the audience’s way into the story. He’s also Bush’s one chance to get back in the good graces of the town. For her part, Spacek glides along in a steady, not-too-flashy part that helps reveal the softer side of Felix.

In the end, Get Low is the kind of effortless charmer that makes it easy to forgive minor faults. It’s a study in contrasts – between the elements of humor and mystery and especially between the acting of Duvall and Murray. A lesser film might devolve into a jumble of mismatched parts, but Get Low provides just the right combination of opposites.

Get Low. USA 2010. Directed and edited by Aaron Schneider. Screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell and Chris Provenzano from a screen story by Chris Provenzano and Scott Seeke. Cinematography by David Boyd. Music score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. Musical direction/supervision by Evyen Klean. Starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs and Scott Cooper. 1 hour 40 minutes. MPAA rated PG-13 for some thematic material and brief violent content. 4.5 stars (out of 5)

4 Responses to “Get Low (2010)”

  1. I’m happy to see the rating you gave this movie. I saw the trailer for it before The Girl Who Played With Fire and was intrigued, particularly given the cast. I didn’t read the review in depth yet, but will revisit after I’ve seen the movie. :-)

  2. I have a feeling it’ll turn out like Kids Are All Right where I really like it in the moment, but it doesn’t stick with me all that much. Unlike say Winter’s Bone which still resonates.

    Not that that’s a bad thing.

    I went in skeptically because Duvall hasn’t been doing it for me lately, but he was fabulous and he was perfect with Murray.

  3. Plus Sissy Spacek is in it. I’ve always liked her and it seems like I haven’t seen her for a long time.

  4. She’s very good here, though her part isn’t at all flashy. She’s one of many excellent ingredients.

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