In a movie career of nearly five decades, Robert Duvall has gone from playing a menacing, mysterious hermit (Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird) to playing a menacing, mysterious hermit In Get Low. And everything in between, of course: cops, robbers, cowboys, soldiers, astronauts, doctors, Joseph Pulitzer and Josef Stalin. In Get Low, Duvall delivers another memorable performance as Felix Bush, a Tennessee recluse who decides to throw himself a funeral.
Get Low is based on a true, unlikely story that has become the stuff of legend. Felix "Bush" Breazeale was a Tennessee farmer who, in 1938, made headlines when he decided to have a funeral party while he was still alive to enjoy it. Thousands attended. Life Magazine covered the event.
In the hands of Aaron Schneider, a cinematographer directing his first feature, and screenwriters Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell, Get Low is part backwoods tall tale, part solemn tale of redemption, part low-key comedy, and part mystery.
Bush lives in a rustic log cabin in the woods, with only his mule Gracie for company. He's feared by the locals who take seriously his threat to shoot trespassers. He's a mysterious bogeyman about whom little is known. When he receives news that an old acquaintance has died, it gives him something to think about. He decides to throw himself a funeral party, and invites the entire county to come and tell their stories about him. He finds a desperate funeral parlor director named Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), who is happy to take Bush's "hermit money" and throw him a grand soiree. Quinn and his assistant Buddy (Lucas Black) become Bush's party planners, publicity agents, stylists, and chauffeurs, but not his confidants. Bush keeps his motives close to his vest, even with Mattie (Sissy Spacek), an old flame who knew him before he was a secretive loner. As the story unfolds, the mystery deepens, but it becomes apparent that Bush has his own story to tell, and he's looking for a way to tell it. In his pre-death, Bush leaves his solitude, and rejoins the community -- the life -- he so long shunned.
Get Low is unexpectedly offbeat, charming, and funny as it meanders along towards a sentimental and not entirely unexpected conclusion, dropping numerous hints along the way of the coming revelation, of a distant tragedy, and a lost love, and Bush's redemption. The performances by Duvall and Murray save the movie from mawkishness -- both men bring ornery, lively wit to their characters. Duvall is fascinating as Bush, a man of few but carefully chosen words. Duvall teases out the quirky, twinkling sense of humor, the deep old hurt, and the emotional volatility behind the ZZ Top beard. Even though the movie can't help but telegraph, well in advance, where it's going, Duvall makes Bush a character who is captivating enough to make it worth following him. Murray is dodgy and sly as ever -- Quinn is almost as mysterious as Bush, and to the very end, it's impossible to know if he's on the level, or up to no good. Both men bring an acerbic edge, and a measure of authenticity and richly human complexity to their performances, which elevate the movie and pull it back from its occasional cornball tendencies.