Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs, Scott Cooper, Lori Beth Edgeman, Linds Edwards, Andrea Powell, Chandler Riggs, Danny Vinson, Blerim Destani, Tomasz Karolak, Andy Stahl
Written by: Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell, based on a story by Chris Provenzano, Scott Seeke
Directed by: Aaron Schneider
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic material and brief violent content
Running Time: 100
Date: 09/12/2009

Get Low (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mourning Glory

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Aaron Schneider is a former cinematographer (Kiss the Girls, Simon Birch) and the director of the Oscar-winning short film Two Soldiers (2003); he makes his feature directorial debut with Get Low. It feels like a debut, it's not totally assured, and it wobbles a bit here and there between tones. But thankfully Schneider is smart enough to have hired such talented veterans as Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Cobbs. Though Get Low attempts to balance comedy and tragedy, the moods never quite mix. But thanks to the skill of these actors, the tragic moments come out quietly and the comic ones come out warmly.

Duvall plays Felix, an old hermit living in Tennessee during the Great Depression. Upon hearing about the death of an old friend, suddenly decides to throw his own funeral (while still alive) so that he can hear all the stories people have told about him over the years. He hires funeral director Frank Quinn (Murray) and Frank's upright assistant Buddy (Lucas Black) for the job. But the more things progress, the more Felix realizes that he needs to tell his own story.

The movie makes a mistake right out of the gate, opening on a "mysterious" flashback to an incident from Felix's past. Felix himself recounts the same incident much more powerfully during the movie's climax, and Duvall's glorious, understated performance is far more effective than a dozen flashbacks. It's a rookie mistake to open on a "strong" image to grab audiences, even if it doesn't quite belong. Additionally, a couple of the subplots, one involving a robbery, never go anywhere.

Poor Lucas Black has the toughest job, however, paired up with all these scene-stealing veterans. He spends perhaps the most time with Murray and becomes the great comedian's whipping boy. Unfortunately, Schneider has chosen to make Black's character the soul and center of the film, and it creates something of a dead space. This is no fault of Black's; his character is a bit stiff, and it's his job to ask all the questions and uncover all the hidden depths and mysteries of the older characters. It makes the older characters more intriguing, but it also short-changes them a bit. The movie could have focused on them, and found more depth within them. But even viewed at a distance, these folks are fascinating and worth spending time with.

Reviewed last spring as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival's tribute to the career of Robert Duvall.

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