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Saturday, November 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 43.0° F  Fog/Mist
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With its fine cast, Get Low is strange perfection
Funeral for the living
on
Duvall is flawless, and Murray brings the film to life.
Duvall is flawless, and Murray brings the film to life.

You need only see Get Low for absolute proof that there remain at least three reasons - Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray - to switch off your home theater and get out into a real one.

Set in Depression-era backwoods Tennessee, Get Low begins and ends with a crotchety, shotgun-wielding misanthrope by the name of Felix Bush, who has erected a "No Damn Trespassers" sign on the edge of his forest-shrouded property. This oak-hewed unwelcome mat is, like Bush, weathered yet sturdy and carries with it a hint of menace. It's a sign that Bush is not to be taken lightly, or consequences will ensue.

And because he's played by Duvall (effortlessly, flawlessly), those consequences are compelling. Bush is the kind of mysterious character who makes you wonder: What next?

Bush, who has lived the past 40 years alone in the woods, is old and suffering from some ailment (we know not what) that will likely lay him permanently low, and soon. So he rides into town to visit a reverend (Gerald McRaney), hoping to arrange his own funeral.

Not only that, he'd just as soon have it before he dies, with all the gossiping townsfolk invited. "I want everyone who has a story about me to come and tell it," he haltingly explains to the preacher, who, flummoxed, declines his services.

Enter Frank Quinn, the whiskey-snorting owner of the local funeral parlor. Played with hound-dog eyes and a savvy sort of gallows humor by Murray, Quinn smells a business opportunity in Bush's bizarre request and thick roll of wadded-up bills, and the two seal the deal.

Bush has his reasons for wanting to hold his funeral before he dies. Confession, redemption and forgiveness are high on his list of priorities.

Duvall and Spacek (as the widowed Mattie Darrow) give two of their finest performances here, but Get Low comes to life most of all when the deadpan Murray is onscreen. He plays Quinn with a semi-shady, very wry underpinning of emotional solitude. Spacek's presence is no less formidable - she is the key to Bush's mystery.

Photographed to period perfection by David Boyd, Get Low is unlike any other film I've seen this year. Director Aaron Schneider won an Oscar for his short film Two Soldiers (based on the William Faulkner story) in 2004. This is his debut feature, and it's a doozy, sweet and strange in equal measure, Faulknerian in its own right, and just about perfect.

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