The viewing room: 'Get Low'

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010

Robert Duvall is the master of marching deliberately toward the grave. Bill Murray is the quintessential deadpan smart alec. Putting these two guys together sets the bar awfully high as far as characters you want to pay attention to.

"Get Low" does just that, and it plays the two to their strengths. One carries the gruffness that only comes from holding a secret across a lifetime. The other is incredibly nonchalant and always has a smart remark ready about his ex-wife or his new customer's facial hair.

The period piece is set somewhere around the turn of the century. The settings are rural, mainly because not enough buildings exist to make a city, and every man still wears a hat when he goes outside. Because of this setting and spirit, "Get Low" is actually a western, and a good one. It's simply a western without the gunfights and 10-gallon hats. Instead, it proves the point of the genre through emotion and attitude.

Duvall is Felix, and like every good ornery old hermit, his isolation is by choice. This concept has been lost on the nearby townies, so rumors about his evil and sometimes murderous misdeeds have circulated among them for decades. And any gossip that's been stirred up for so long has to be true, right?

Felix comes to a point in his life where it's time to break the silence. That is, the time before his death. Felix strikes a deal with a local funeral parlor owner (Murray) in which he cleans up and advertises himself to bring the crowds for his own funeral party, one which he can attend while he's still alive. The hook is that anyone with a bad story about Felix is encouraged to tell it. Who knows, he may have one of his own.

We get a glimpse of his dirty little secret right off the bat. His secret, tragic as it is, is nowhere near the evils those that have never spoken to him have conjured up. But to him, it's much worse. No wonder he chooses to limit his conversations to his horse.

His past also catches up him in the arrival of an old acquaintance, played marvelously by Sissy Spacek. If you think she's simply the one who will solve everything, think again. No love is ever that simple, and certainly no one as complicated as Felix ever is.

Again, this movie is a western, just one set in an era where cars have already replaced the horse as the common way to get around. The tribulations that motivated the cowboys of old are still there. This movie shows how they can effect these "cowboys" without showdowns.

There seem to be fewer of westerns on the market these days, but "Get Low" shows that the characters do not have to be stereotypical to fit into a genre. Rather than a rugged cowboy for a hero, it can be a depressed old man. The wise-cracker could be the smartest one in the room rather than the sidekick.

Speaking of which, the funeral merchant in "Get Low" enjoys the quips as much as he enjoys staying in business. He thinks nothing of being the only one in his field to rearrange the funeral model to suit a stiff that that wants to be present. But Felix's beard has to go first.

• Contact Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at

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