Wednesday, 16 February 2011
Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek, Gerald McRaney
By Alan Bacchus
There’s a strong whiff of the Coens Brothers through most of Get Low – Aaron Schneider's indie success from last year, the story of an old hermit who organizes his own funeral as a means of repenting for the sins of his past. The staid anachronistic tone, golden brown cinematography and dead pan humour reminds of the Coens at the most idiosyncratic – A Serious Man, Barton Fink, et al.
Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, a ragged hermit, who for 40 years has lived in isolation in the outskirts of a rural 1930’s Tennessee town. As a result much gossip and rumours of Bush, who wears an intimidating scraggly beard and blown out hair, has grown. One day he walks into a church, first contact in many years with the outside world, and asks about how to arrange his own funeral – not when he’s dead, but now.
For Buddy (Lucas Black) a young funeral home worker, it becomes a chance to bring in some business for his opportunistic boss Frank Quinn (Bill Murray). With less people dying these days and with them badly in need of money they accept the job and go about Felix’s demand to bring as many people to his wake to tell stories about the man. So what’s eating Felix? A complicated backstory emerges of guilt and regret involving an old friend played by Sissy Spacek, a history which requires Felix to repent and find peace with the people he’s hurt.
While there may have been influences by the Coens it’s an impressive achievement for a new director, as it appears from outset he’s found a unique but familiar voice. The dark comedic tones, absurd concept and American hinterland setting contributes to the gothic fairytale quality.
It’s a meaty role Duvall who relishes every bit of business he can milk from the character. It’s not quite the dream matchup we hoped from the casting of Bill Murray opposite Duvall. Their scenes together are fun but understated, consistent with the tone of the rest of the film. Lucas Black turns in another sympathetic role. He was of course a former child actor, plucked from obscurity by Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. He’s matured well into a legitimate adult actor, but still with the same aw-schucks Ozark charm he had when he was a little boy.
Looking into Schneider’s bio, it’s not surprising he started out as a cinematographer and lighting technician, the experience of which he has obviously put into Get Low. The film is beautiful, shot in the increasingly rare 35mm anamorphic format. The compressed and then expanded image we get from the camera lenses results in a distinct epic feel, with lovely textured backgrounds. The lighting is also exquisite, delicate and controlled.
Get Low is unfortunately too heavy on visuals and tone propping up a script to sparse to connect with deeper than the aesthetic level, the emotional juice of which is concentrated into one revelatory scene at the end, by which time the film has used up its welcome. But overall, an admirable effort from Schneider to showcase Duvall again in all his iconic glory.
Get Low is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment