Frequently humorous and thoroughly heartfelt, cinematographer-turned-director Aaron Schneider's debut feature, Get Low, shares quite a bit in common with last year's Crazy Heart -- and it's not just for the fact that it reunites Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper (who appears in a minor onscreen role in the film) with that film's producer/co-star Robert Duvall. Much like Crazy Heart, Get Low is a gentle character study that's steeped in Southern atmosphere, and seems like a product of another time. As the haunted men in both films struggle with events in the past that they're powerless to change -- yet which continue to influence the present -- we gradually gain a deeper understanding of their true character while witnessing an incredible transformation that's been a long time coming. Get Low could almost be considered a sister film to Crazy Heart, but it's entirely good enough to stand on its own, and it casts screen veteran Duvall in a role it seems he was destined to play.
Few folks have spoken with Felix Bush (Duvall) since he disappeared into the Tennessee woods 40 years ago, and the ones who have don't necessarily have the kindest things to say about him. Gruff, confrontational, and ill-tempered, Felix has been the source of many malicious rumors over the years. Some say he's a cold-hearted killer, and his penchant for walking into town sporting a shotgun, a wild beard, and threadbare clothes doesn't exactly give the impression of a man who seeks to make friends. When Felix walks into Frank Quinn's (Bill Murray) funeral parlor and announces his intentions to throw himself a massive party before he passes away -- and that anyone with a story to tell about the mysterious recluse is welcome to attend -- word quickly spreads through town and anticipation starts to run high. Over the course of the next few days, Frank's assistant, Buddy (Lucas Black), works to ensure that Felix is fully prepared for both the party and his funeral. Before long, the big day has finally arrived, and Felix finds himself struggling to summon the courage to reveal exactly why he shunned society to lead a life of solitude in the deep woods.
With Get Low, Duvall finds the type of role that actors in their twilight years cherish -- complex, conflicted characters struggling with their own regrets and sense of mortality -- and uses his immense talents to convey that character's monumental inner struggle in a way we can all connect with. Felix is a man who seems to relish the gossip-driven mythology that has turned him into a local legend, but he never loses sight of the reason for his current situation. His story is one of guilt, penance, and forgiveness, and as one of the most respected actors of his generation, Duvall conveys all of this in ways that make it feel completely natural. Whether it's a skittish, shamed glance at a picture on the wall or a quirky gesture that helps him to articulate a sentiment that's hard to vocalize during the incredibly moving final revelation, Felix has a unique way of communicating, and his actions are commendably supported by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell's screenplay -- a wonderfully nuanced narrative that slowly peels away the layers of local legend to reveal the tragic source of the character's interminable suffering though a satisfying blend of dialogue and action.
The support comes in more ways than one, as well. As whiskey-sipping, slightly shady funeral home proprietor Frank Quinn, Bill Murray steals nearly every scene he's in, and offers the perfect counterbalance to Black, who plays his more honest assistant and the man who ultimately helps Felix realize that not everyone subscribes to the local gossip network. Sissy Spacek, meanwhile, works wonders with a relatively small supporting role, her conflicting feelings about Felix serving to drive home the screenplay's sentiment that good and evil don't exist far apart, but nearly intertwined, and that love and hate can function in much the same way. Her quiet scene with Felix after the funeral party speaks volumes about both characters with precious little dialogue.
For anyone who loved Crazy Heart and craves more character-driven dramas that don't cater to current cinema trends or shy away from more mature themes, Get Low offers further proof that there are still plenty of compelling stories out there, and they can still be satisfying even when told in a more traditional style.