Crusty recluse Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) has spent 40 years in his cozy little cabin off the beaten path with only his mule to keep him company. Realizing his waning mortality, Bush ventures into town with intentions to “get low”, that is to say make arrangements for his passing. Felix then makes an odd request that perks the ear of funeral home owner Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and his assistant Buddy (Lucas Black)…He wants to attend his own funeral. Haunted by his past, Felix’s friends old and new, soon become aware of the method behind his madness.
First time director Aaron Schneider weaves an impressive American tale based on real events. The cinematography is rich, the score conjures the best of roots and bluegrass music and the attention to detail gives the entire piece a rustic feel not unlike the lead’s wood-workings. Where the magic truly lies however is in the performance of Robert Duvall.
Duvall slips into the role with exceptional grace having the ability to seem stern and stubborn while being quiet and bewildered. Like a man living in seclusion for 40 years would do; dialogue is delivered with believable pause and contemplation as if the wheels are turning as he struggles to find the right words. This is especially observed in Felix’s first few encounters with Mattie (Sissy Spacek) a woman he once had a relationship with. Still, when he has his mind set, Felix gives his words brevity, to the puzzlement and dismay of many.
Duvall however isn’t the only jewel in this treasure chest. Bill Murray manages to put a modicum of irreverence in every scene he’s in. His motivations are muddled and not easily defined which leaves the audience wondering until the very end. Sissy Spacek likewise gives her significantly smaller role a richness counterbalancing Duvall’s brood and Murray’s brash.
The only weak link in an otherwise strong feature is the performance of Lucas Black, whose altruism becomes less of a source of character and more of a springboard for exposition at odds with the themes of the film. It’s not for lack of trying as Buddy’s character ark is given more attention than it should and ultimately becomes draining.
Nitpicks aside however, Get Low is probably the first significant drama of the fall season and the best character study since The Wrestler. Propped up by stellar performances, challenging themes, beautiful cinematography and true American folklore Get Low has a vast emotional depth that is quickly becoming extinct.