Now available on DVD, “Get Low” is a low-budget movie with some big names in its main roles. Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek combine their estimable veteran talents in a little gem of a film, one which made only a small splash amidst the usual tsunami of summer blockbusters.
Based on a true story but considerably embellished, the plot involves an old hermit’s wish to arrange his funeral. The hitch is that he wants to attend while he’s alive. Felix Bush (Duvall) has lived by himself for forty years in his cabin on three hundred acres of piney woods—if you don’t count his mule, Gracie, and a series of dogs. Stories and rumors about the old coot abound, of course: on the rare occasions he ventures into town, he’s mocked and threatened. But in the late 1930’s, the death of a friend inspires Felix to hitch up Gracie and bring his wad of cash to the funeral parlor of Frank Quinn (Murray).
A former car salesman, Frank and his assistant Buddy (Lucas Black) have fallen on hard times, Frank bewailing the refusal of the townsfolk to die. So when the old man turns up with his bizarre request, Frank hesitates but finally accepts, even agreeing to invite everyone that has a story to tell about Felix. It takes some advertising and some finagling, like the addition of a drawing for all Frank’s land, but eventually the funeral guests—and the money—start to come.
The arrangements also lead to the emergence of an old friend of Felix’s, one Mattie Darrow (Spacek), who sees a very different man than her neighbors do. But old animosities linger between the two, the reasons for which provide the movie’s central tension and lead up to Felix’s critical address to the assembled crowd at his first funeral.
The speech/confession is Duvall’s tour de force moment in a film more notable for small, droll bits. It is almost the only brightly-lit scene, director Aaron Schneider choosing to keep things muted, in keeping with Felix’s unhappy life. Murray’s performance is similarly understated, his sad sack, schlumpy visage barely twitching. His scenes with Duvall are quietly comic interludes in a movie which gradually reveals its preoccupation with regret, redemption, and forgiveness. The working out of that theme primarily occurs during Duvall’s scenes with Spacek, though a nicely modulated cameo by Ben Cobb as a black minister adds depth and context.
Chances are most people had to wait for the DVD to see “Get Low,” which is rated “PG-13” for some thematic material and brief violence. I’m guessing that kids will find it too slow and subdued for their tastes. However, adults who enjoy some subtlety in their movies—as opposed to special effects and lots of gore—will appreciate this one.