Friday, May 27, 2011

New Release Review: Get Low (Aaron Schneider, 2010)

Get Low is inspired by the true story of Tennessee recluse Felix 'Bush' Breazeale, who attracted national attention and a large assembly when he threw himself a living funeral party in Roane County in 1938. To draw a crowd to this highly irregular memorial, Felix sold lottery tickets offering his valuable plot of land as the prize. Afterwards, he explained, "he just wanted to hear what the preacher had to say about him while he was alive."Utilising intriguing source material screenwriters Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell collaborate with director Aaron Schneider to create this bizarre but critically acclaimed period drama. It features fantastic performances from Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, while Sissy Spacek and Lucas Black co-star.

Few folks have spoken to Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) since he disappeared into the backwoods of Tennessee forty years prior, but the ones who have don't have the kindest words to say about him. As a gruff, confrontational, ill-tempered old hermit who sports a wild beard, Felix has become something of a local legend and the subject of all kinds of tell-tales and malicious rumours. Keeping his dark past to himself, Bush has become content to remain a recluse and have no friends. This seclusion is reconsidered when he learns of the death of his neighbour and starts to ponder his own mortality.

Entering town one day wielding a shot-gun and a wad of cash, he is approached by Buddy (Lucas Black) a young colleague of Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and convinced to let Quinn's Funeral Home, which has been struggling financially, to take over his sought after funeral affairs. Bizarrely he informs them that his intentions are to throw a living funeral party for himself before he passes away. Word is quickly spread around town and anticipations run high. Felix enlists Quinn and Buddy the task of inviting anyone with a crazy story about him to attend the funeral and tell it, while Bush has decided this is his chance to tell his own buried and misunderstood story. As a prominent event from his dark past resurfaces, Bush must reignite a friendship with Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), seek support from an old friend, Reverend Jackson (Bill Cobbs), and face his overwhelming guilt, shame and regret in search of forgiveness.

Get Low has an intriguing mystery at the core, unravelling who Felix really is. When a strange or different person confronts people, it is common that they counter their misunderstandings with tales and stories. Growing tired of being referred to as a grizzly old fool around town, and wracked with guilt from his own past, he decides to organise a 'get-out-of-jail-free' funeral and live in solace for the rest of his days. But Quinn and Buddy cannot run this event without knowing a little bit about the man. Unwilling to divulge his story to the funeral directors, he seeks out the only people in town who knew him from an earlier life. While the characters are obviously conflicted, they still have a space in their heart for Felix, a man who's gruff exterior masks a sensitive soul.

Get Low is purposefully and patiently structured, though I found it surprisingly slow and guilty of being too subtle. I now understand why the film's release in Australia has been so delayed, considering the difficulty in marketing the film and classifying it to a genre. Schneider adequately reveals each of the characters through often-witty musings about regret, forgiveness and death, but none of their relationships are fleshed out enough. While it remains focused on highlighting Felix's transformation and personal conflicts, the rest of the cast seems bland without Duvall present. The notable exception is Bill Murray, who's deadpan charisma provide the film's most amusing moments. Buddy seems to have a particular interest in Felix, recognising the regret aching away at this man's conscience, and desiring to help him for personal gratitude, not just the money. I assumed that the young trespassing boy caught and then let go by Felix in the first scene was a young Buddy. He is one of the few people to have been close to Felix in the last forty years, and now living a happy and successful life that Felix can only imagine.

There was such a mystery surrounding Felix's past, I was sure it would be a grand, climactic revelation. Though it is still one of the best sequences in the film, because of Duvall's performance, it still felt unfulfilling. Without a peep from the intrigued attendees who stand in a silent mob, and following a few reluctant but kind words from Reverend Jackson, the microphone is quickly turned over to Felix, ready to divulge his misunderstood and painful tale. The final speech from a man plagued by his past and contemplating his own death, is rousing and moving, and a true testament to Duvall's dedication to the role. Having served his self-enforced sentence in his own constructed prison for forty years, his unassured vocal outing is aided by the persuasion of his closest acquaintances, friends from the past (Mattie and Jackson) and men who have come to understand him presently (Quinn and Buddy).

Technically, it was not overly impressive. The lighting was fantastic during the night sequences, but unnecessary hand-held and patchy editing plagued the film a little. But this is a character-driven film, and Felix Bush is certainly an intriguing one. Get Low offers the 80 year-old Duvall a role he can sink his ageing teeth into; an opportunity to explore this withered, wounded soul, and a role that makes his age an essential attribute to his character. Amidst Duvall's marvellous and lengthy career, his funeral speech will be considered amongst his greatest moments and it is undoubtedly one of the best performances of the year. It is such a shame that the film, overall, does not deliver more fulfilling drama. Disappointing.

My Rating: 3 Stars (C+)


  1. hey andy, i saw this recently because of the premise of a rollicking funeral party. i had one small problem (aside from the ones you mentioned of course) there was no rollicking party.

  2. Yeah, it was a let-down wasn't it? I thought the final scenes would be a lengthy series of stories and festivities, followed by his honest confession. It was entirely the latter! A brilliant performance, but a poor film surrounding it!

  3. Oh, Andy.

    I understand your perspective ... I just disagree completely.

    I felt it was an old-fashioned story, tributing older films, which I loved. The Ink Spots playing the background, the despair that Duvall fleshes out so well, and the drama that rung true, time and time again - is what made "Get Low" so special.

    The climatic sequence was genuine and sincere - a "climatic revelation" like you said would have made no sense. The whole film is subtle, we're not going to receive a bombastic ending.

    Good review, we just have totally different takes.

  4. There was a lot that I liked about the film, I just felt a little unfulfilled despite this being a film so rich with life and centred on such an intriguing individual. I struggled with the pacing, and hoped that the subtleties would result in a grander conclusion. I feel like it is another addition to the 'great performance, poor film surrounding it' list. I don't think it was particularly well made, and with the exception of Duvall's performance, altogether quite forgettable. But, of course, I respect other opinions of the film too!

    Hey, I saw Snowtown today. Wow! I currently have it topping Animal Kingdom, but I'm not sure how to judge my experience, so that may change eventually haha.