25 June 2011

Movies: Get Low

Get Low (2009) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1194263/

Period drama with a bit of mystery. Stars Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs.

Set in 1930s Tennessee, Felix Bush (Duvall) is the mysterious hermit that's lived by himself in the middle of the woods for the past 40 years. Of course the nearby townfolk all have their tales about the old hermit - that he's a killer, in league with the devil, and whatnot. He suddenly shows up in town one day, shotgun in hand, and says he wants to buy himself a funeral and attend said funeral before he dies. He wants everyone around who has a story to tell about him to show up and tell it so he can hear what others think about him.
As the funeral director Quinn (B. Murray) and his apprentice Buddy (L. Black) make the funeral arrangements we begin to get hints about Felix Bush, his relationship with a local widow (Spacek) and an Illinois preacher (Cobbs), and the mystery about why he's been living alone all these years.

The film is loosely based on a true story about an actual dude that threw his own funeral back in 1938. As to how much of the film is based on that dude's funeral I have no clue. My guess is the similarities are probably superficial things like hermit, self-thrown funeral, 1930s Tennessee. I couldn't find anything much more detailed than a sentence-long "based-on". Then again I didn't dig deep to find one either.

This is no escapist film like so many modern films tend to be.  It's a great break from the remake films, the sequels, the comic book adaptations, the action/adventure films, explosions. Straight up period drama with a hint of mystery.  It's a redemption film, a reconciliation film, an emotional coming to peace with oneself film.

The story is compelling and as more hints about a mystery are revealed the more one is drawn into sticking through to the end. Whether or not you figure it out ahead of time doesn't matter, the story as told by Felix at his funeral makes everything clear.

The cast and acting is superb.  Duvall and Spacek - can't say enough about how good those two are. I realize most folks see "Bill Murray" and assume it's some sort of comedy, but Murray is perfectly cast in his dramatic role. He stands out as different from the local Tennessee denizens and he is, having lived in Chicago for many years before moving out to the boonies. He's a great contrast to Duvall's backwoods hermit.  Then again he does have one of the best funny lines in the film.
Lucas Black's performance reminded me of his Frank Wheatley role in "Sling Blade" - it's as if little Frank grew up and now works at a funeral home. He played "Buddy" with that same wide-eyed yet caring innocence. Every time he got that goofy look on his face I could hear Carl saying, "You ought not talk that way. Yer jest a boy."  And if you haven't seen "Sling Blade" yet you ought just do that. Biscuits, mustard.

The locations are amazing, the cabin, the woods, the 1930s-era town.  Costuming and set dressing and props all feel spot-on. The production completely immerses the viewer in the time and setting.  Great pacing, editing and all other technical aspects. If there were any production flaws I didn't notice them. There's a couple plot points that don't get resolved, but the story is about what's important to Felix Bush. So I suppose those things are left alone because they aren't as important as Felix's story.

Amazingly this is the feature-length directorial debut of Aaron Schneider. Very mature production for a first-time director. Schneider has had a bit of experience as cinematographer or DP on a few productions, so he isn't exactly a stranger to film production. He's obviously learned his craft well and it shows.

I really enjoyed the film. Like I mentioned before, it isn't anything like the escapist fare that is the bulk of films released these days. If you have trouble sitting through a film that has great characters and great dialog in a dramatic setting you'll probably have trouble with this one. It wasn't boring to me at any point, but that's me.

"Coen brothers", "Miller's Crossing" and "Sling Blade" all come to mind because this film reminded me of their story telling styles. I've mentioned in other reviews I really like the films from the Coens. If you haven't seen "Miller's Crossing" or "Sling Blade" I highly recommend those films in the same breath as recommending this one.  Yes I know "Sling Blade" is not a Coen bros. film - that one is all Billy Bob Thornton and it's awesome.  See all three movies. Do it.

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