Director: Aaron Schneider
Stars: Robert Duvall, Lucas Black, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek
It’s a sombre thought that has drifted through most of our minds at one stage or another. How many people have I touched in my life? Who actually cares enough about me to go to my funeral? An old friend, a lost love or someone long forgotten maybe? Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) wonders himself, but he wants to attend in person, just not in a wooden box; but with his heart still beating and blood flowing through his veins. Felix’s reasons may not be the same as yours or mine. For Felix has a shadowed past, he lives a life of isolation in a remote log cabin. He has secrets; too painful to share himself. He desperately wants; desperately needs his story to be told.
We first meet Old man Bush drenched in elusive shadow, a typical figure of fear in many local neighbourhoods. He is home alone, startled by the sudden shattering of glass. He runs to investigate, shotgun in hand. He is soon confronted by his would-be assailant; a young man of six or seven years. Felix is a familiar character, the unknown entity in any town. The local kids make up stories, stories so old that when the kids grow up they are taken as truths. Felix is an outcast. He has a wild beard, the colour of salt and pepper (perhaps more salt than pepper) and tousled unkempt hair. He chops wood to light his lonely fire, faded pictures of a young woman, perhaps a love long passed hanging on the wall.
Felix enlists the services of town’s funeral parlour to arrange his ‘living funeral’, Bill Murray plays the laconic, opportunistic undertaker Frank Quinn, while Lucas Black is his eager and honest assistant Buddy. Felix feels a connection with Buddy, one of the few people he is comfortable talking to. Maybe he sees something of himself in him – Buddy has new wife and young child. What could have been. Buddy is tireless in assisting his newest (and potentially most lucrative) client, a moral quandary exists with which he uneasily struggles. Frank Quinn has no such issue, to take the old man’s money.
Felix visits characters from his past, requesting their presence at the funeral. Sissy Spacek plays one such character – Maddie, an old flame of Felix – she is full of memories of what might have been. Spacek carries an air of elegance, a warm and confident manner. However, a life of solitude has worn Felix’s social skills. His gruff and abrupt demeanour belies a mischievous and complex nature. As Frank puts it “He can be extremely articulate when he wants to be”, he just hasn’t had cause to be so recently.
We slowly begin to delve into Felix’s past, as he alludes in a rare early moment of vulnerability – “I built my own jail and I put myself in it for forty goddamn years”. He is no longer bitter or angry, just sad and remorseful. He doesn’t know how to receive the kindness offered to him by Buddy. He needs resolution and most importantly forgiveness.
Get Low has a warm and welcoming feeling; stately and mature whilst retaining a light breeziness throughout. Aaron Schneider has crafted a remarkably assured and wholly realised debut full length feature. Every aspect is executed with the skill of a vastly experienced artist. The pacing, elegant cinematography and the performances he draws from a wonderul cast are flawless. Get Low exposes the rapidly diminishing art of storytelling. The original screenplay is the buzzing nucleus of this fine film: deft, moving and thought-provoking. The easiest things are sometimes the hardest to pull off, Get Low rolls by with an effortless integrity that is so rare these days.
The acting is subtle and perfectly compliment the fable-like story. Felix’s closing monologue is the most heartbreakingly captivating scene I have witnessed in some time. Robert Duvall wrenches every last drop of guilt and regret from his tortured character. The measured means by which we slowly grasp the circumstances behind Felix’s self-imposed exile, allows the viewer to slowly appreciate his choices. Not just appreciate his reasons, but respect and revere them. Every rugged line in his face, every strand of hair in his coarse white beard – tells a story. The nuance and subtle inflections of a man who has endured so much, is powerfully conveyed. The impact of the poignantly affecting scene would not have been possible without the slow and restrained development of Duvall’s character. Everything that went before now makes sense, suddenly thrust into sharp focus. Duvall provides the finest leading performance I have seen this year, all Oscar contenders considered. Get Low is a film of the highest quality that gently soothes and excites the soul. Robert Duvall stands out as a glowing testament to experience and wisdom. Whilst there are few roles for the older gentleman in Hollywood – Get Low reminds us why there should be.