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Get Low

Robert Duvall shines as a recluse who plans—and attends—his own funeral.


 

Get Low (PG-13)

En español  |  Robert Duvall, one of the best character actors of our time, launched his screen career in 1962 as the enigmatic shut-in Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird.  For the role, he dyed his hair blonde, wore a cropped mustache and looked out at the world with eyes held in a sunken stare. Now in the twilight of his years, Duvall sounds some poignant echoes of that role as the hermit Felix Bush in Get Low. Both Radley and Bush (who unlike Radley has long, unkempt gray hair and a chest-length beard—but that same haunted gaze) are men estranged from society by their own choosing, and Duvall knows just how to make an audience yearn to understand why.

Duvall has said he signed on for this latest role because he loved the script. Get Low is based on the true story of a Tennessee hermit named Felix "Bush" Breazeale who, in 1938, held his own funeral five years before he died. The event attracted some 10,000 people and garnered national press coverage, including a piece in Life magazine, but Breazeale's motivation remained an enigma.

Cinematographer Aaron Schneider—after winning an Oscar for Best Short Film-, Live Action for Two Soldiers in 2004—decided to turn the unfinished business in that kernel of historic fact into the basis for his feature directorial debut. He brought in screenwriters Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell to construct the mystery that would explain why Bush would want to emerge after 40 years of self-imposed exile to allow any townsfolk who had a story about him to eulogize him in his presence. The script populates the Depression-era Southern town with compelling characters, including Mattie Darrow, an old love of Bush’s (tenderly played by Sissy Spacek), and funeral director Frank Quinn (appropriately sleazy and funny, thanks to Bill Murray’s turn). Schneider applies his magical touch with the camera, setting the time and place with one sepia-toned scene after another (Although, thanks to heavy-handed costume and prop designing, the funeral itself comes off a bit too much like a folksy carnival).

It's this embarrassment of riches—three terrific actors, complex and wounded characters, and a setting rich in nostalgia—that sets Get Low apart as one of this year's better indie films. But it's the movie's underlying theme that truly puts it in a class of its own. In the end, this is a story about how past mistakes root deeply in those with a conscience, and ultimately worm their way to the surface. In a heart-breaking confession at his funeral, Bush bares his soul and frees himself to "get low."  There is, surely, something to be said for that. 

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