September 16, 2010

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Get Low (PG-13)
An ornery hermit sees the end of his life approach and decides to get right with his past in Get Low, a decent movie made delightful by the performances of Robert Duvall and Bill Murray.

I could watch Robert Duvall play cantankerous all day long. And I could watch Bill Murray do, er, whatever it is that he does — kind of a mix of smarm, world-weariness and broken-down charm — all day long too. This pleasant, not-bad little story gets a kind of Coen-Brothers oddballness and a depth almost entirely because of them.

Felix Bush (Duvall) is the neighborhood hermit that children scare themselves with (we see a group of boys sneak around his property; the one who gets caught is so scare he pukes) and adults trade gossip about. Nobody really knows who he is or why he’s holed up in his land, surrounded by “no trespassing signs.” (Also, “beware of mule” — though that mule, Gracie, seems like the extrovert of the duo.) After some heart pains leave Felix believing the end is near, he decides to prepare for his funeral — only he wants the gathering and the eulogizing to happen while he’s still alive. Buddy (Lucas Black), the junior salesman at a local funeral home, sees the big wad of what his boss Frank Quinn (Murray) calls “hermit money” and, after the pastor (Gerald McRaney) turns Felix away, Buddy and Frank go to help make the arrangements. The event soon becomes a multi-county affair with Felix promising to raffle off his property and tell his story to those who come to his funeral party. Meanwhile, the return of Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), a woman from Felix’s past, gets Felix closer to remembering and being able to talk about the event that turned him into a life-long longer.

We get hints of that deep dark secret early on — a house on fire is the film’s opening shot and later we see a sepia photo of a young woman hanging near Felix’s bed. Felix might have a crusty exterior but on the inside he is a sorrowful pudding of guilt and love and loss. And all of this might have been some combination of not enough — the entire story really is just an old man getting ready for the end — and too much but Duvall makes it work. He is such an engaging mix of regret and loss and resignation that, even in the scenes where he is acting opposite only a mule or sometimes only a photograph, he pulls you in and you are completely absorbed with what he’s doing.

Likewise, Murray’s character is a hoot whether he’s sleeping on the job or scrambling to add a few drops from his flask to his coffee while Buddy is briefly out of the room. Neither one of these characters would be nearly as watchable without these actors.

Get Low is not more than the sum of its parts but somehow it manages to look like it is and even feel like it’s got more going on than it really does, at least while you watch it. B

Rate PG-13 for some thematic material and brief violent content. Directed by Aaron Schneider and written by Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell and Scott Seeke, Get Low is an hour and 42 minutes long and distributed in limited release by Sony Classics.