Thursday, August 12, 2010

Film Review: Get Low

Robert Duvall, Lucas Black and Bill Murray in Get Low
Writer: Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell; based on a story by Chris Provenzano and Scott Seeke
Director: Aaron Schneider
Producer: Dean Zanuck and David Gundlach
Cast: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs, Scott Cooper
Period-piece fable, 1 hour 42 minutes

Director Aaron Schneider's journey to making his first feature film has been a long one. Having begun as a cinematographer, he directed the short film Two Soldiers in 2003 that was based on a short story by William Faulkner. It went on to win the Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Film. But it actually didn't get played very much because its 40-minute running time made it difficult for festivals to program, and he hadn't secured all the rights to the music in advance. It wasn't until last year at the Toronto International Film Festival that he premiered his debut feature Get Low. Now it gets its theatrical release.

Apparently based on a true story, it tells of a much-despised hermit Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) who wishes to stage his own "living funeral" so that he can learn what terrible stories the townspeople have to tell about him. An unscrupulous funeral home director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) is only too happy to oblige. For some reason, a widow named Maddie Darrow (Sissy Spacek) seems to think kindly of him, but an Illinois preacher Charlie Jackson (Bill Cobbs) refuses to help Felix Bush in any way.

It's an odd but delightful film. It takes a while for the film to find its way, since Duvall and Murray seem and odd pairing. Bill Murray pretty much does his usual schtick and it doesn't entirely suit the film. It is (or perhaps should be) more of a drama than a comedy a la O Brother, Where Art Thou? Murray's role is too big to just be comic relief and it seems the tone clashes with itself.

Nonetheless, the story and the acting are compelling. Just as he did with his short film Two Soldiers, Schneider successfuly captures an authentic sense of time and place. His work with the camera is very assured. His work with the actors is less so, and that is often what happens when a newbie director works with veterans such as Duvall, Spacek and Murray. Fortunately, they are good enough that the odd overindulgence doesn't upset the overall balance.

By the end, I found myself quite moved and teary-eyed, even though it felt like I knew everything that was coming. Not everyone will necessarily respond the same way. But this is a simple but sweet confection that is thoroughly enjoyable for those willing to go along on the journey.

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