Robert Duvall is an indisputably great actor who approaches his iconic roles like a man with a secret. As Felix Bush, a Depression-era hermit out of the Tennessee backwoods, Duvall finds the soul of a character who has shrouded himself in mystery for four decades. That Felix waves a shotgun at anyone who dares to defy his sign, “No Damn Trespassing,” suggests that he’s hiding a violent past. I’ll say.
Get Low, from first-time feature director Aaron Schneider, holds its cards close to the vest. Schneider and screenwriters Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell ease us into Felix’s tale so they can pull the ground out from under us. The plot goes from simmer to sizzle when Felix decides to throw a funeral party – his own. Better yet, he wants to be present at the service, which sounds more like a public stoning. The Rev. Gus Horton (Gerald McRaney) tells him to buzz off. But local funeral director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) is eager to help Felix get low. Frank long ago buried his principles and his sense of shame. With the help of his young assistant, Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black), Frank rustles up speakers at Felix’s funeral by selling raffle tickets with Felix’s property as the prize. Lots of folks show up, including widow Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), a former love of Felix’s, and the Rev. Charlie Jackson (the superb Bill Cobbs), who knows things about Felix nobody else does.
All you need to know is that Get Low puts Duvall and Murray in the same movie. Only a fool would want to miss that. Murray gets big laughs without skimping on the minute details that build a fully rounded character. And watching Murray spar with Duvall is pure pleasure. By the end of this funny, touching and acutely observed film, shot in Georgia by the gifted cinematographer David Boyd and flavored by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek’s bluegrass score, Felix reveals his secret heart. And Duvall, without a word wasted or fumbled, holds you in thrall.