First-time director Aaron Schneider is one of the most promising young talents I've seen in quite some time. His movie has unfortunately been a ghost during this awards season, but not completely unnoticed. Nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Feature, "Get Low" is truly a breakthrough achievement. A subtle fable about redemption, the movie also features one of Robert Duvall's finest performances in recent history.
The story, partially inspired by local folk tales, follows the strange days of a town in 1930s Tennessee. A hermit by the name of Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) decides he needs a funeral party, even though he's not dead, and apparently, isn't in any hurry to die, either. He's got plenty of money to arrange it, but the local church turns down his offer. Quick to jump in and accomodate the old man's requests is Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), a funeral home owner. For Quinn and his protege, Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black), Felix's proposal is a welcome opportunity, since their business isn't exactly booming. Things get a little complicated when a certain widow comes into the picture. Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek) seems to have a shared history with the mysterious man and gradually, as we find out more about Felix, it becomes more apparent that the rolicking funeral party is going to be a grand reveal of secrets, buried deep in time, under six feet of regrets and guilt.
I was surprised at how balanced this movie is, especially considering it's Schneider's debut as a director. There's a bitter-sweet tone to the proceedings and despite the movie entering melodrama territory by the end, it never goes over-board. It's not a tearjerker, but a surprisingly moving and thoughtful drama. Schneider treats the characters with dignified respect and never turns them into caricatures or archetypes. We sense their humanity and empathise with their predicaments. That's more than you can ask of any movie. Duvall, Murray and Spacek are effortlessly excellent. They live and breathe through their characters and their performances ground the movie and give it credibility. Without these actors, who knows if it would have worked this well.
It's a shame that cinematographer David Boyd and art director Korey Washington never received any recognition during this year's award season, because their work addds that third dimension to the movie. You know which one, the one that all the fancy 3D tech and glasses can't generate. The level of detail and immersion that is present in this movie is unusual for an independent feature like this and on par with the bigger movies of last year. Also, big thumbs up for Jan A.P. Kaczmarek's beautiful score, both subtle and emotionally satisfying.
"Get Low" is powerfull drama and one of those rare perfect movies. I assume Aaron Schneider will find more work now that he has proved his talent. His next projects might not be big-budget 3D movies, but I'm sure he's better off handling more movies like this one.
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