Rarely does a film elicit a response which runs nearly the full gamut of human emotions. The film “Get Low” does this by telling the story of one man struggling to make peace with his past. The backdrop of the film is comprised of scenes of Americana, circa-Tennessee in the 1930s, with a comedic touch. Essentially a study of human nature, love, and struggles with morality and death, the cast is responsible for bringing the characters and the simple, beautiful, yet tragic story to the screen.
In every age and in every neighborhood there is always a mysterious person surrounded by folklore in one form or another, creating the mythology which sometimes perpetuates for generations. “Get Low” focuses on Felix Bush, played by Duvall, who comes out of his reclusive lifestyle in an attempt to clarify the truth of his life stories before he passes away. To sweeten the pot, as most townsfolk are downright scared of Bush, he offers to raffle for five dollars a ticket, his home and the hundreds of acres of land that he owns. Duvall expertly portrays a man who is at once stubborn, reclusive and ashamed of something in his past, but also charming and timely in his sentiments. He refuses everyone who comes onto his property, and even pays no attention to the news that someone once assumed close to him has passed away.
As he struggles with his daily chores of tending to his one friend, a pack mule, and chopping firewood, he starts to realize he might be coming to the end of his days.
As Bush makes his way through the town, much to the suspicious eye of the townspeople, he flashes a wad of money claiming he is in search of a funeral which will allow him forgiveness and freedom to move into the next world in peace. With this, Bush comes across Frank Quinn (Billy Murray) of Quinn Funeral Home, who looks to gain some of Bush’s fat stack of cash to beef up his failing funeral home business. Murray is deliciously charming and comedic ally brilliant in his delivery of what would be shocking sentiment in an innocuous way. Quinn and his aspiring young assistant Buddy Robinson played by Lucas Black (“Cold Mountain,” “Jarhead”) attempt to deliver what Bush requests, which is a “living funeral party”. The humor in this situation, as well as other scenes comes with Murray’s demeanor and Duvall’s frank statements.
Such scenes as picking out a casket for Bush and attempting to promote the funeral party on a radio show turn into subtle laughs for the audience.
With Duvall’s cranky, yet complex and loveable character Bush, Bill Murray’s comedic timing and one-liners as the funeral home owner, Sissy Spacek’s tender, yet powerful performance as Bush’s would-be love interest, and Lucas Black’s morally upstanding Buddy Robinson, the cast is not only star-studded, but also at the top of their games. Duvall consistently delivers with the utmost clarity and sincerity present in this performance. He embodies the character of Bush, the mountain man who can craft anything out of wood, and who finds friendship in a mule, and observes human nature with all of the depth and understanding of someone who has been steeped in society, rather than alone for forty years with only the company of a mule.
The film’s pacing is slow at times, as we watch Duvall in his solitary life, but it is representative of the path he leads and is quite necessary to fully portray the character of Bush. That aside, the film keeps interest high throughout because of the eagerness to see what happened in Bush’s past and why he is so burdened from it.
Because it is not explained until the end of the film, we are not sure what to fully feel about the character of Black, which heightens interest as well.
There are a number of things this film is saying in terms of what is morally acceptable in society, and how there are no stories which are truly black or white. The huge grey area in the middle is what “Get Low” is all about. The conclusion of the film includes an incredibly powerful scene that doesn’t disappoint; there’s a feeling that everyone in the film has gained in some way from finally hearing the story of Felix Black. When the truth is finally revealed, Duvall shows Black’s humanity on every level it could be expressed through a performance on screen. “Get Low” will not let you forget what you have seen any time soon, and will remind you that on screen as well as in life, the storytelling is what matters.