Sundance Review: GET LOW
The long list of deeply and realistically flawed characters legendary actor Robert Duvall has portrayed now has one, more name added to it. Felix Bush, the character at the center of GET LOW, has a mystery about him, a deep-seeded kernel down within that drives him away from civilization and towards the backwoods of 1930’s Tennessee.
When the film opens, after an absolutely amazing first shot that heightens the sense of the mystery, we see children throwing rocks at Felix’s house, busting out a window. Felix runs out of the house bearing rifle and chases one of the children into his barn. The child, terrified at the prospect of what may come about him, vomits, and Felix, only wanting to scare the children (and seeing he has done just that), steps aside, allowing the child to run along.
Felix just wants to be left alone, and, so, it’s a complete shock to the community when he comes down from the woods and makes a proposal to the local funeral home owner, played by Bill Murray, and his young apprentice, played by Lucas Black. Sensing the end of his time in the world is not long coming, Felix wants to have a funeral party. The kicker, he wants to have it while he is still walking and talking. What’s more, he wants to hear the community’s stories about him, all the horrific gossip that has been spread about him, whether true or not. The funeral director, the young apprentice, and a widow, played by Sissy Spacek, who may have had more dealings with Felix than most know about, realize that the mystery and its resolution all play a part in Felix’s proposition. As the day fast approaches for his party, more and more secrets are revealed, and the ultimate truth of Felix’s exodus into the woods comes to light.
GET LOW is a fine film, one that, when you step back and look at all of the aspects that went into it, probably has as many good points as it does bad. Somewhere in the middle of those good points are the satisfactory ones, the aspects of the film that work quite alright without sliding in either direction of great or horrible. The direction by first-time feature film director Aaron Schneider is perfectly adequate, relying mostly on the point-and-shoot method of film making rather than putting any real style into any of the shots. Much of the beauty of GET LOW comes from the production design, and Geoffrey Kirkland (CHILDREN OF MEN) definitely deserves points for bringing the ’30s to life here. Unfortunately, the music in GET LOW from composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek is the worst aspect of the film, and the literal way it reflects precisely the mood of the film serves almost as a distraction. Kaczmarek has done amazing work before. It is a shame to see that his work here is not more nuanced.
Murray is another of those satisfactory aspects of the film, delivering lines that bring about laughs, even though they may not have been written that way. Spacek delivers a spot-on performance, but, unfortunately, Black just doesn’t have the chops to contend here. He reads his lines without fail, but there is nothing natural about his delivery, nothing that makes the character seem real in any sense of the word.
What really shines here is Duvall, and it is worth watching GET LOW strictly for the performance he gives here. Duvall has an effortless way of bringing characters to life, of making them seem like real characters in a world that has long since moved on. He does so with keen precision here, as well, and I defy anyone not to get even a little emotional in the tale Felix has to tell at the end of the film.
When GET LOW finally gets its theatrical run, there is sure to be award buzz all around Duvall’s performance. Yes, it is a grand portrayal of a deeply flawed character, a man who has been punishing himself and the rest of the world but never truly learned the sense of the word “forgiveness.” However, the film that is built up around this character and the portrayal behind it is only, moderately recommendable. Without Duvall steering the course, this ship just might have run aground, and the lows of GET LOW may just have outweighed the highs.