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Going-Out Party 

Robert Duvall and Bill Murray have a fine time at a crusty hermit's premature wake

Get Low is an interesting sort of mystery film, because, unlike the standard mystery movie, the question is not "who dunnit?" but "what done he did?"

Robert Duvall stars as Felix Bush, an ornery old hermit who, like all the best ornery old hermits, lives on the outskirts of a small town in 1930s Tennessee. For some reason, the townsfolk have gotten the idea that Bush is a source of great evil, so they shun him and break his windows and throw rocks at his mule. Basically, they act like he's trying to build a mosque in their financial district.

In spite of this, Bush only occasionally fires his shotgun at trespassers, and when someone annoys his mule, Bush merely beats the man down with a wooden dowel, and not a metal cudgel. Still, none of this endears him to the local folk, who, in the manner of all local folk of the '30s, are good, hardworking Christian people who are tolerant of Negroes and Chinamen.

Meanwhile, the dapper Frank Quin (Bill Murray) is having trouble keeping his business afloat. He runs a funeral parlor, but it's the Depression, and people are so poor that they can't afford to die. Luckily, hearing about a friend's death leads Felix Bush to consider his own mortality, so he comes to Quin's office, tosses a big, lumpy wad of cash on the table, and asks Quin to throw him a good, old-fashioned funeral hoedown.

The catch is that Bush wants to be there to witness the funeral, probably to make sure that he dies childless so that his name will never be associated with torture, war crimes and the destruction of the U.S. economy. Although Quin's young partner Buddy (Lucas Black) thinks this is a bad idea, since it goes against the natural order of things wherein funerals are only held for people who can't enjoy them, Quin's good-hearted Christian sense of avarice is awakened by the wad of what he calls "hermit money," and so he agrees to cater to Bush's desires.

As plots go, it's a little pat, but to be fair, it's based on a true story, or a legend surrounding a true story, or some such. Tennessee in the 1930s was the sort of magical place where mythical tales arose among the elves and hobbits and moonshiners, and the real Felix "Bush" Brazeale did indeed have a funeral while he was alive, though most of the rest of the story is the invention of writers Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell and Scott Seeke. They write great dialog, though Murray and Duval could keep an audience rapt if they were reading from Podiatric References in the Koran. In fact, Murray even gets laughs with the line "What can I do for you, sir?" Try that out at your next Lions Club dinner.

The problem with the film, then, isn't the dialog or the performances. Rather, the central story conceit sets up its own failure. The reason Bush wants the funeral is because he harbors a dark secret, some great sin that he must confess and has kept hidden for 40 years. The film keeps building to the revelation of his unforgivable crime, but when he finally gives it, it simply can't live up to the hype. Instead of painting him as a monster, it ennobles him, and since Duval's rich characterization has already ennobled the character for the prior 85 minutes, the ending needed something much more powerful to make it worth the build-up.

Still, while not a masterpiece, Get Low is an excellent cinematic experience. Director Aaron Schneider has mostly worked as a cinematographer, notably on the TV series Friday Night Lights, which is probably the best-shot show on television. In Get Low, his smart eye for composition and color takes advantage of the leafless autumn woods of Poland to create a sad, sepia-rich environment for Bush's final party.

This is Schneider's first feature, and if there are a few missteps in the storytelling, he still comes off as a talent worth watching out for. If he tilts toward the tameness and sentimentality of his ending, he'll only be known for his fine eye. But if the weirdness, intensity and interest in the eccentric that inform the earlier parts of the film show up in his later work, we'll be treated to some excellent cinema in the vein of Sven Nyqvist, Terrence Malick and John Huston.

Get Low
Rated PG-13 · 102 minutes · 2010
Official Site: www.sonyclassics.com/getlow
Director: Aaron Schneider
Producer: Dean Zanuck, David Gundlach, David Ginsberg, Harrison Zanuck, C. Mitchell, Joey Rappa, Robert Duvall, Rob Carliner, Oliver Simon, Daniel Baur, Alain Midzic, Blerim Destani, Dariusz Gasiorowski, Brad Park, Brandie Park, Konrad Wojterkowski, Scott Fischer, Don Mandrik, Chris Provenzano and Beth Crookham
Cast: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs, Scott Cooper, Lori Beth Edgeman and Linds Edwards

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What others are saying (9)

Charleston City Paper A crazy ole coot throws his own funeral in the kitschy Get Low Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is the kind of man children fear and men tell stories about. He's the most notorious hermit in 1938's East Tennessee. He even has a sign nailed on his property warning "No damn trespassing. Beware of mule." In case anyone misses the point, Bush fires off a shot after hanging the sign, a gunpowder punctuation mark that declares he means business. by Felicia Feaster 08/24/2010
Portland Mercury Lifetime Achievement Get Low: Robert Duvall's still a badass. by Andrew Wright 08/12/2010
Colorado Springs Independent Hallmark moments: Get Low How should an audience respond when a performance comes so naturally to the great actor Robert Duvall that he all but renders the film itself superfluous? by Jonathan Kiefer 08/26/2010
6 more reviews...
Indy Week Get Low doesn't go low enough A film that looks to Horton Foote for inspiration is worth taking seriously, but this director and screenwriter don't have what it takes to give their synthetic concoction any authority. by David Fellerath 08/25/2010
Creative Loafing Atlanta Aaron Schneider's Get Low makes the Old South feel new again Oscar winner Aaron Schneider returns to the South for his directorial debut by Curt Holman 08/17/2010
Boise Weekly High Marks for Get Low "I once sold 26 of the ugliest cars ever made one December in Chicago with the wind blowing so far up my ass I was farting snowflakes in July." by George Prentice 08/25/2010
The Coast Halifax Get Low leaves on a high by Sue Carter Flinn 08/26/2010
Boise Weekly The Projector: Movies opening Friday, Aug. 27 Get high with Get Low; and watch your head, 'cause this is The Last Exorcism you're going to get (and heaven help you if you see it in 3D); plus a special screening. 08/27/2010
Memphis Flyer Actor's Studio Three great veterans save a promising but wobbly director's debut. by Chris Herrington 08/26/2010

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