sat 25/05/2019

Get Low | reviews, news & interviews

Get Low

Get Low

Newly 80, and bearded, Robert Duvall means business - as he always has

A man with a mission: Robert Duvall gets (low) down in Aaron Schneider's debut film

Time, and a scruffy beard, can't dim the unshowy magnificence that is Robert Duvall, the actor's actor among American film stars who turned 80 earlier this month. That milestone might represent a cue in some quarters to hang up your cleats or, at least, to coast into old age via a kindly supporting role or two, of the sort Duvall essayed in Crazy Heart. But resting on such comparatively untaxing laurels is no more Duvall's style than it would be that of his latest assignment, Felix Bush, an avowed loner who says little but keeps a shotgun close at hand. Mess with him at your peril, and don't bother with chit-chat; this fella's primary companion, it would seem, is his mule.

Time, and a scruffy beard, can't dim the unshowy magnificence that is Robert Duvall, the actor's actor among American film stars who turned 80 earlier this month. That milestone might represent a cue in some quarters to hang up your cleats or, at least, to coast into old age via a kindly supporting role or two, of the sort Duvall essayed in Crazy Heart. But resting on such comparatively untaxing laurels is no more Duvall's style than it would be that of his latest assignment, Felix Bush, an avowed loner who says little but keeps a shotgun close at hand. Mess with him at your peril, and don't bother with chit-chat; this fella's primary companion, it would seem, is his mule.

A portentous, thumping soundscape doesn't exactly promise two hours of subtlety

As a portrait of the ornery outsider, Duvall is memorably prickly, and with his fierce eyes and newly hirsute guise, he resembles a singular amalgam of a biblical patriarch and King Lear. Indeed, so lacking in ready sentimentality is the actor that one slightly resents debut film-maker Aaron Schneider when his movie turns formulaic and starts trafficking in life lessons, when all we really want is to watch a seasoned old pro, well, get down. How unfortunate that a narrative launched in fury and rancour goes the smiles-and-tears route by the final reel. But try looking away for even a second from Duvall and you may just find that concentrated, spare-nothing gaze pulling you back.

Events begin inauspiciously with a house in flames and a portentous, thumping soundscape that doesn't exactly promise two hours of subtlety. But once the narrative proper takes over, both the film and its leading man hit their stride, for at least as long as the screenplay can resist such rhetorical questions as "Can you help who you love?" (Not to mention several culinary scenes that would suggest the isolated Felix as some sort of backwater Gordon Ramsay; on this evidence, he does a mean rabbit.)

murraymattAs Get Low lays bare Felix's fractious back story, the meaning of the title is made plain. A man with a violent if not fully understood past, he has decided against the odds to "get low", hoping in other words to be able to savour his funeral while he is still alive. That, in turn, means reconnecting with humankind, starting with Bill Murray (pictured right), in ever-deadpan form as the business-minded undertaker, and Sissy Spacek, more welcome than ever, playing the recipient of Felix's kitchen skills. (Between this and the concurrent release of Diane Keaton in Morning Glory, Hollywood's older stateswomen would appear to be ageing very gracefully, indeed.)

As long as the film is catching Felix, as it were, on the lam, Get Low is good, often gruff entertainment: a vivid study of the apparently unrepentant sort who points a rifle where others would offer a hand. (The material is rooted in an actual saga dating back to 1930s Tennessee.) But Oscar season notwithstanding, you'll win no prizes for guessing that here is a Man With A Past embarked on some sort of quest (however wayward) towards forgiveness. It's the way of the cinematic world that a self-described "crazy old nutter" exists to be redeemed, an imperative that itself comes accompanied by abundant chat about getting "the truth out" and gnomic references to "it".

Still, there's pleasure to be had from the face-off - make that a frown-off - with which Felix and the residents of Caleb County take up adversarial glares, and Duvall benefits from having Murray's urbanity on hand lest proceedings descend too far into a self-conscious celebration of the untamed reprobate. Chris Provenzano and C Gaby Mitchell's script, too, knows the value of terseness shared by their redoubtable leading man. "How are you?" Felix is asked at one point, his instant reply: "I am."

And how right that sounds in a film showcasing at every turn its star. Simply put: he is.

Watch the trailer for Get Low

Time, and a scruffy beard, can't dim the unshowy magnificence that is Robert Duvall

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