Get Low

a film by Aaron Schneider

With a disquieting tongue-in-cheek attitude that reminds one of classic Altman, Get Low is one of those films you can never quite get a bead on, but thanks to the smoothness of all those involved, it is one of those films you never really have to. Told matter-of-factly, but at the same time quite cryptically, first time feature director Aaron Schneider (he won an Oscar in 2003 for his short film Two Soldiers) actually does very little in creating the mood of his film. Shot beautifully (Schneider does have a good many cinematography credits under his belt) Schneider, instead of filling his film with the nuances of someone like the aforementioned Altman (something perhaps he is not yet adept at doing) simply hands the ball over to his actors and lets them run with it. And of course, it is living legend Robert Duvall who runs the farthest and the hardest and goes the deepest, leaving all others in his allegorical dust.

Set in the 1930's, Get Low is the story of an old hermit (Duvall in full "crazy old nutter" regalia, replete with scraggly old beard, shotgun welcomes to any and all trespassers and mason jar moonshine on the front porch) who decides it is time to come out of his forty some years of self-imposed, backwoods exile and tell the world his secret, via the funeral party he wants to set up for himself (before he's dead of course). What that secret is will not be revealed until the end, but that is neither here nor there. The real story of Schneider's film is Duvall and his (I hate to use such a cliche'd term but...) tour de force performance as said crazy old nutter. With the quiet magnitude that is Duvall (think Tender Mercies meets The Apostle) Get Low seems like a precariously packed bundle of dynamite, climbing quietly toward what could be an explosive crescendo. Unfortunately, with its rather expectant and bit too tidy finale that exploding crescendo never quite materializes, but the road leading there is at times darkly comic and times quite intense. Too bad the ending finishes off with such a whimper as it were.

But then, this is Duvall's show, and it is well worth watching, for even in the end, there is never a dull moment while Duvall is on the screen. Yet, Duvall 's show or not (and the inevitable Oscar campaign should start any day now), there is a supporting cast in here, and for the most part they do all they can do as well. Bill Murray, as the snarky funeral director (is Murray ever anything but snarky?) gives what may very well be his greatest performance yet, in a role that is easily the most nuanced and multi-faceted (though subtly so) of anyone in the movie, including Duvall's old nutter. In fact it is Murray who shines brightest at times. Sissy Spacek, as Duvall's long ago girl, is also wonderful here - better than she has been in a long time (sans her work on Big Love and perhaps North Country, a lack of good roles perpetrate such an admonition) - but once again, this is Duvall's show, and even the lack of a powerhouse ending cannot overshadow such a performance as he gives here at the tender age of 79. Crazy old nutter indeed. [09/13/10]