Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A review: Get Low, an homage to the rural South

Sony Pictures photo by Sam Emerson
Rural East Tennessee, in 1938, is the setting for Get Low, a gentle new movie starring Robert Duvall (left) and Bill Murray. Everything about the movie feels so authentic. It is as sepia-toned as waking up in your grandmother’s rural Tennessee home while the morning sun shines through the yellowed window shades. The daffodils that occasionally appear in the hands of Sissy Spacek’s character stand out like an explosion. You could almost smell pine trees, too. The movie was filmed in Georgia, but the mountains look lush and green as the Smokies (and the Cumberlands around Oliver Springs, site of the true story on which the movie is based).

Robert Duvall is ever the masterful actor, saying more with less, playing the scary man in the town. He is Felix Bush, the bearded, crazy-haired hermit feard by the town's children. One morning, Felix hitches up a mule and rides into town to ask the preacher to hold a funeral for him while he is still alive. Preacher portrayals are so often dreadful in the movies. Usually, it’s more Elmer Gantry than kindly minister. What a relief that Gerald McRaney is a preacher willing to sit down, ask Felix what’s on his mind, then respond to him thoughtfully, if not necessarily in the way Felix would wish. The only other character who knows Felix and his secret is also a kindly minister, played by Bill Cobb.

Eventually, Felix hooks up with Frank Quinn, the shady funeral home operator who says if your funeral home fails, you have no one to blame but yourself. Bill Murray is Quinn, an actor most interesting when he also says more with less. Is he honest? Is he a snake? Who knows. Murray’s assistant at his funeral home is played by Lucas Black. Blessedly, he is really from Alabama so – thank goodness! – he has a real Southern accent. So many movies are ruined by actors trying to sound Southern. Black, as Buddy, represents a kind of sweetness and purity that Felix can recognize, even though he’s been a hermit for 40 years.

Another real-life Southerner, Sissy Spacek, is also the real deal actor. She has that authentic accent (she’s from Texas) and that steel spine she made famous as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. She, too, is wonderful in this movie, hinting at lost love. Was it for Felix?

Felix wants this funeral party to find his own redemption and perhaps, forgiveness, of a grevious sin he felt he committed. Fortunately, Felix didn't make moonshine, he didn't spit tobacco. He crafted beautiful furniture, built a church. This movie offers so much more than frightful portrayals of rural hicks (ack, Deliverance!). Rather, it offers the kindness, sense of place, hope and sadness as rich as the rural heartland really is. This lovely movie is an homage to that place.

Other reviews: Los Angeles Times("one of his [Duvall's] finest performances"), Time magazine, The New York Times (two trailers and several clips)

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