The unconventional, reserved actor Robert Duvall chooses similarly challenging material to produce and direct himself, whether it be 1997's The Apostle or his 1980s pet projects, Angelo, My Love and Tender Mercies. The latter film gave him one of his most delicate, nuanced roles, as well as his first Academy Award. Far from a vanity project, Mercies doesn't revel in Duvall's gruff, stoic persona so much as critique it. His washed-up country singer is a recovering alcoholic, hesitant and guarded with those who try to get close to him, whether fans (Lenny von Dohlen) or potential lovers (Tess Harper). As scripted by Horton Foote, the film has the lazy, unforced rhythms of real life. It's very much a piece with Foote's The Trip to Bountiful (1985): both stories are swan songs for long-neglected people who find redemption by revisiting the places and moments that have haunted them all their lives. In his first American feature, Australian director Bruce Beresford shows a real affinity for the barren Texas locales, never condescending to his characters or their simple, humble desires. Duvall wrote and performed a number of the songs.