A slow-paced examination of a man coping with self-imposed exile, Get Low is a subdued movie that provides a showcase for yet another fantastic performance from the legendary Robert Duvall. Director Aaron Schneider shows promise here in his debut feature, and proves (if nothing else) he has an excellent grasp on creating atmosphere.
This is the type of movie the Academy loves: a small independent film featuring powerful acting and establishing a great sense of place. Loosely based on true events, the story follows Felix Bush, a Southern hermit who hires a couple of funeral home workers (Bill Murray and Lucas Black) to throw him a “funeral party” he wants to attend before he dies. The film also charts his relationship with Maddie (the charming Sissy Spacek), whose family indirectly caused his hermitage.
Avoiding comparisons to Tom Sawyer will be difficult for this film, but the main story difference between the haggard Bush and the spry Sawyer is that Bush isn’t hiding at his own funeral. He invites the entire town to come out – in fact, he wants anyone who has a story to share about him (there are many since, after all, he’s a hermit) to come out and tell it. Through his time spent reunited with Maddie and old pastor friend Charlie (played by “you’d know him if you saw him” Bill Cobbs), Felix discovers he doesn’t want to hear stories about himself; instead, he wants to tell his own story to everyone to set the record straight and ease his conscience.
Any time a new Bill Murray movie comes out, a certain segment of the population rejoices. I am a member of that segment. Murray is great here as the quasi-sleazy funeral home owner desperate for money. Constantly sneaking drinks from a flask, Murray’s trademark deadpan humor fits this character better than most considering the black humor that must be employed when dealing with dead bodies all day. Lucas Black, who many might recognize from The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, was actually tolerable as Murray’s sidekick and followed Duvall around for most of the movie dealing with his eccentricities. The movie also featured a small acting appearance by Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper, marking another collaboration with Duvall (who co-starred in and produced Cooper’s movie). The dialogue between these two is solid as well, with the mentor Murray dropping bits of wisdom like, “If you don’t do this yourself, you’ll never know if you’re any good. And you’ll never be good if you don’t know that you are.”
Technically speaking, the movie was very well made – especially for a debut film. The opening shot – a striking static shot of a building burning in the dark – was haunting and sticks in your mind for the rest of the movie. The production design is exceptional, utilizing a woodsy color palette perfect for the setting and tone of the film. The music also stood out in an effective way, featuring a nice mix of slide guitar, banjo, and bluegrass instrumental bits with more famous songs like “If I Didn’t Care” by the Ink Spots (famously used in The Shawshank Redemption).
All that said, there’s something about Get Low that didn’t quite connect with me the way the filmmakers were presumably hoping. I’m not entirely sure what it was – perhaps the story was a bit too familiar, perhaps the slow pace threw me off, or the fact that it was funny, but not overly so – but I wasn’t as hooked or moved as the story seemed to desire. I’m not implying this is a bad film – so much worse has come to theaters this year – but if you’re not a huge Duvall or Murray fan, I’d say wait for a rental. Until next time…