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Uncouth at a Funeral

MOVIE REVIEW
Get Low (2010)

Get-low-robert-duvall-lucas-black-bill-murray
Sam Emerson/Sony Pictures Classics

Robert Duvall dominates "Get Low" from the off, easing into the part of crusty codger Felix Bush like an old shoe and spiriting the film away from under the noses of several other very fine actors. Looking so weathered that even his whiskers seem exhausted, Mr. Duvall builds Felix from a symphony of emphysemic wheezes, creaking joints, muttered wisdom and withering scorn. Chances are he got paid for it, but that might not have been essential.

In need of a particularly large portion of redemption before death, Felix emerges from the backwoods of 1930s Georgia and coerces his neighbors into throwing him a big funeral party, to be held before he dies, at which the many urban myths surrounding the old coot are to be told to his face. Caught up in the scheme for reasons both virtuous and mysterious are a wide variety of townsfolk, including Felix’s old girlfriend Matie (Sissy Spacek) and funeral director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray); and closeted skeletons look all set for an airing.

When something such as all this happened for real in Tennessee, the motivations of the original Felix stayed mysterious. But Hollywood abhors a moral vacuum, so the film arranges for a spot of life-affirming closure instead. That’s not great news for the narrative which might have benefited from a swerve away from the path, but director Aaron Schneider fills in the gaps with visual atmosphere and gets plenty of mileage from the crisp outdoor light of the Georgia woodlands.

The wild card in Mr. Schneider’s hand is Mr. Murray. Wading into the countless takes no doubt piled on the cutting room floor, the director finds the actor in free-wheeling mood. Whether Frank Quinn deserves the prominence in the story that the casting guarantees is a fine question, but the character is said to have a history of shady marketing endeavors and snake-oil salesmanship, so Mr. Murray's habit of seeming two pages ahead of the rest of the cast feels about right. Watching he and Mr. Duvall lock horns is the film’s sweetest sight, a clash of styles in which both titans are so relaxed they’re horizontal.

GET LOW

Opens on July 30 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed and edited by Aaron Schneider; written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell, based on a story by Mr. Provenzano and Scott Seeke; director of photography, David Boyd; music by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek; production designer, Geoffrey Kirkland; costumes by Julie Weiss; produced by Dean Zanuck and David Gundlach; released by Sony Pictures Classics (United States). Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Robert Duvall (Felix Bush), Sissy Spacek (Mattie Darrow), Bill Murray (Frank Quinn), Lucas Black (Buddy), Gerald McRaney (Rev. Gus Horton), Bill Cobbs (Rev. Charlie Jackson), Scott Cooper (Carl) and Lorie Beth Edgeman (Kathryn).

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