Sundance 2010 Review: GET LOW

James Wallace

by: James Wallace
August 13th, 2010

Note: This review was originally written on January 23rd, 2010.

Rating: 4/5

Writers: Chris Provenzano (screenplay), C. Gaby Mitchell (screenplay), Chris Provenzano (story), Scott Seeke (story)
Director: Aaron Schneider
Cast: Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek
Studio: Sony Pictures Classic

Set in 1930s Tennessee, GET LOW tells the tale of a crotchety old hermit named Felix Bush (Duvall), who has created his own literal and figurative prison in the woods for a horrible incident that occurred 40 years prior. In the nearby town, stories and urban legends of Felix run rampant, as everyone both fears and hates him. Everyone but the widower Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), who Felix once had a relationship with before fleeing from his former life abruptly. But even she doesn’t know the full extent of the sordid past belonging to the man she once knew and loved.

As Felix nears the end of his life, he reflects on his years of isolation and the subsequent cause, leading him to make funeral arrangements with the help of funereal director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and his young assistant Buddy (Lucas Black, who reunites with Duvall from 1996's SLING BLADE and who departs here from films that don’t quite use his Southern drawl and earnestness like this one successfully does). These are not funeral arrangements for after his death, but rather for a funeral party that he can attend while still alive. Felix proceeds to hatch a plan where everyone who has a story about him can come and tell it, airing the years of despise for the man in one eventful day. Felix himself has a story to tell. A story of a horrible mistake he made 40 years ago. A story that involves infidelity, deceit, and murder. A story that has caused the man to create a purgatory on Earth for himself for so many decades.

For his first full-length feature, director Aaron Schneider (who won an Oscar for his short TWO SOLDIERS) keeps what is a slow-paced film interesting while successfully unraveling its deep, dark secrets and developing its intertwined relationships. The tone of GET LOW is constant and heavy, making you feel as if every scene is dramatic, emotional, and meaningful to what is eventually revealed in the end, like a puzzle with every piece carefully placed one after another. Not once do you ever feel that you just want to know the conclusion ahead of time and have it be over with.

There for relief from the heavy burden of Felix and his story is Murray, who plays Quinn with the same dryness seen in his indie comedies of the past. The difference with GET LOW is Murray’s style is placed within a deeply emotional film, subsequently accentuating the comic-turned-dramatic actor’s dry but somber and thoughtful presence.

Duvall is at the top of his game as a man at the end of his life. As Felix, he allows the audience to trust in the idea that he is a good man who just made a bad choice long ago, despite the audience not knowing any of the details of what he actually did. He wears his past on his face, in his wildly unkempt beard, as well as in his presence of every scene. Most other characters within the film are afraid of him, but as an audience, you can’t help but feel for him and forgive him, despite his never being able to forgive himself.

As a side note, if Duvall’s monologue in the film’s climax - during which he finally confesses his sins aloud after retelling them over and over in his head every day for 40 years - doesn’t move or shake you, then you may want to have yourself checked out at the nearest hospital. It may be possible that you are a robot. It is one of the single best and most poignant moments of the iconic actor’s career.

In the end, GET LOW is as much a tale of forgiveness as it is secrets and lies. Redemption as much as it is condemnation. Life as it is death.

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