The sheer subtlety of the film “Get Low” caught me by complete surprise. The film’s opening scene begins with a country house engulfed in flames. The point is fairly obvious. But from the second-floor window a body falls out of a window in flames and falls from the roof to the ground. This mysterious burning person runs into the woods and the viewer is left wondering, “What does this scene really mean?” Well, it means everything as you will discover by the end of this remarkable film
One critic refers to “Get Low” as a “quirky but tender [film] . . . a wonderfully constructed and beautifully acted fable that serves as a reminder of how much of a treasure Robert Duvall is, and how much Bill Murray–an excellent script-picker if ever there was one–is taken for granted.” Add to these two award-winning actors the person of Sissy Spacek and you have a great threesome even without some of the wonderful additional actors who are less well-known.
The sheer genius of this film is found in the unparalleled ability of Robert Duvall. This man is simply great. Situated in the 1930s Duvall plays Felix Bush, an old man who is alone and completely cranky. He lives in an old cabin in the woods of Tennessee. (The story is true but the script allows for considerable liberty in the telling of it.) You soon learn just how cranky Felix really is when you see the sign at the end of his wooded driveway that says: "No damn trespassing." At the bottom of the sign is another important message: "Beware of mule!" So the viewer is first introduced to Felix and his private world. The town folk, especially the children, fear old man Felix. No one wants much to do with him thus there is no real surprise when you find out that his mule is his only real friend in the world, at least so far as we know.
But you are soon made aware that Felix is deeply troubled by something, or someone, far back in his past. If you factor in the opening scene of the man on fire you will guess there is a connection but even if you get that this is related you will still wonder, “What did the fire really have to do with this old man’s odd behavior?” Before long you grow to like Felix as you realize he isn’t really just an angry old crank but in reality he is a deeply troubled and hurt soul.
After decades of taunting and withdrawal from people Felix decides to hold a funeral, thus the title: “Get Low.” (“Get Low” is a colloquial expression for one who is going to the grave!) The twist is that Felix wants to hold his own funeral. He wants to invite anyone who is interested to share a story about him. But there's a big surprise. Felix will be alive and in attendance at his own funeral “celebration” if he can only get an undertaker to pull it off.
Enter Bill Murray’s character, a funeral home director who sees dollars signs and business in a depression era context. Murray is as good as ever and really pulls this role off beautifully. With the help of his young assistant (Lucas Black) Murray hatches a plan. The result, adds a reviewer, “. . . is one of the most charming funeral films since ‘Waking Ned Devine.’” The revelation of Felix’s past becomes the climax of the story and all I will tell you, in order to not spoil it, is that the climax is worthy of the film.
"Get Low" is a truly great movie. I cannot recommend it too highly and believe it is clearly worthy of several Oscar nominations. It carries a great message communicated in a studied and subtle manner. It is a beautifully filmed tale of love, regret, repentance and redemption. If you like great stories, humor and a message told by great character actors then this is it. By far this is the best film of 2010, at least so far.