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Get Low is Robert Duvall’s movie from beginning to end, and it may be his most perfect casting in his career. Playing Felix Bush, a hermit in rural 1930s Tennessee, Duvall captures loneliness, frustration, anger and guilt in his performance to an incredible degree. Bush has a secret buried in himself, and in turn has buried himself in isolation for 40 years, but given his growing closeness to death he wishes to be unburdened of it.

To this end Bush turns first to the church (and a surprising appearance by Gerald McRaney, a face I had not seen in years) for a funeral arrangement. Finding no satisfaction here he leaves, but an eager young funeral home employee overhears his plea. Buddy (a grown Lucas Black of Sling Blade) offers to help him with his final goal, a “funeral party.” Bush invites four counties worth of people to tell their stories of him, a “crazy old nutter,” while he yet lives to hear them.

The burden of backstory the writers and director Aaron Schneider handle quite well. It feels ominous without overpowering the story in the present, and then delivers a terrible but believable blow when revealed.

The film belongs to its actors, though, starting with star Duvall and extending to Black’s fine performance as the conflicted but earnest Buddy, unsure as to how to proceed with an outrageous request from a dying man. Bill Murray delivers as the businessman willing to go to great lengths for Bush during a dry spell. I wondered at first if this was yet another chapter for Murray, possibly closing the period from Herman Blume in Rushmore through Don Johnston in Broken Flowers. But his Frank Quinn feels a little too familiar, like what Peter Venkman may have become without the success of the “Ghostbusters,” shilling the same old song to whoever would listen. It’s a great performance, just not in retrospect the revelation I thought I’d seen. Sissy Spacek turns in a great performance as a key to Bush’s past. She carries her part without revealing much more than a hurt, and locking that away almost as tightly as Bush himself does. Bill Cobbs has a similar role and handles it just as well. His stubbornness in the face of Bush’s ailing health speaks volumes as to the depth of their past and he conveys this brilliantly.

All of these parts fit so well together and tell such a rich story, from the acting, writing and direction, the beautiful cinematography and even the choices in gospel and music contemporary of the time, all of it works to build the story to its climax. The music in particular provides a kind of backbone to the film, an uplift where the painful events could drag it down, not unlike what a church should do for its congregation. 4 ½ stars

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