With little effort, one could make a very convincing argument that Robert Duvall is America’s best living actor. Just a few months shy of his 80th birthday, Duvall has been igniting the screen ever since his haunting, underplayed debut in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Really, can you picture anyone else as Corleone consigliere Tom Hagen in the Godfather’s? Or sleazy publisher Frank Hackett in Network? You know for a fact that no one else could pull of a line as bizarre as “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” as well as Duvall. But that’s not fair, a lot of actors had their heyday in the 70s.
So how about a list of very mediocre films that Duvall not only stole scenes in, but actually made the film worth watching: Deep Impact, A Civil Action, Phenomenon, John Q, Lucky You and on and on. Mix in brilliant turns in The Paper, The Apostle and Sling Blade and you’ve got a bonafide master.
In his latest feat, Duvall plays ragged hermit Felix Bush, who in 1930s Tennessee gets the wild idea of having a living funeral. He wants to invite the whole town, most of which fear him, with the help of a fast-talking funeral home owner (Bill Murray) and his loyal partner (Lucas Black).
Bush has secrets. Big ones. That he’s kept tight-lipped for 40 years. And this is where a film like Get Low can either falter or excel. Bush’s secrets are talked about throughout the entire film, details are hinted at, criminal activity is suspected, but nothing is ever confirmed. Where it gets tricky is when the audience finally finds out what the big secret is.
Of course I won’t reveal it here, but I will say that once we find out, it is done with such effortless conviction that Duvall will effortlessly waltz into the Kodak Theatre in February to eagerly await his second Oscar (he won in 1983 for Tender Mercies).
For a first time feature film director, Aaron Schneider delivers beyond expectations, fully immersing his set with believable details. (This guy ain’t no rookie, though. He won an Oscar for Best Short Film in 2003.) And with the help of Murray, who is clearly having a blast, and the talented Black (who continues to raise his own bar after a remarkable debut in Sling Blade, with roles in Friday Night Lights and Jarhead), Get Low is most definitely a world to trek in to
“It’s about time for me to get low,” Duvall says in an early scene. And something tells me that if it was anyone else, we may not care as much. B+