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Duvall returns to roots in 'Get Low'

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"Get Low" struck me as a suitable choice for Robert Duvall. It's a return trip to that long-ago role that launched his film career: the eccentric hermit that everyone in town has a story about. As Boo Radley, Duvall gave the most scene-stealing performance of "To Kill a Mockingbird" — impressive, given that he didn't have a single line of dialogue.

Now he's treading that same ground, again carrying some words he can't quite bring himself to say. Duvall plays Felix Bush, a shut-in who's built himself a nice cabin and barn in the middle of 300 acres of undisturbed woods. He rarely goes to town, hasn't had a visitor in 40 years, and usually shoots at those who try. He hunts his dinner, builds his own furniture and talks to his mule.

One day the local preacher takes the risk of visiting Bush to inform him that an old friend of his has died of old age. Bush reflects on the nearness of his own death and hatches a plan: He wants to have his own funeral before he dies, and he wants everyone who's ever heard a story about his past to come. He refuses to say why.

His case is taken up by Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), an undertaker and carpetbagger whose funeral business is threatening to go broke. Quinn is impressed by Bush's wad of cash and promises to deliver on that funeral party.

It becomes clear early on that there's a reason for Bush's self-imposed exile. Something he's never talked about and may not ever be able to. The story turns on that mystery, and I suppose if there's one significant complaint about the film, it's that it's not terribly mysterious. You'll likely have it figured out before the big reveal.

But "Get Low" is not a whodunit and shouldn't be judged as such. It's a movie about love and redemption and the costs others sometimes pay for our decisions. Judged on those merits, it's a pretty damn good film.

Duvall is of course Duvall, which is to say he acts the hell out of the role. Same with Sissy Spacek, who plays an old friend and admirer of Bush's. Bill Murray is Bill Murray, which is to say that he's wonderful, but still discernible as Bill Murray.

The writing and direction are equally solid, though the first 45 minutes or so of "Get Low" set a bar the rest of the story can't quite reach. A touch disappointing, yes, but that's not to say it's not good — on the contrary, "Get Low" is by turns funny, touching, sad and something approaching tragic. There's no shortage of pathos in the film's climax, which works well enough, even if it lacked much of the power I'd been expecting. The ending is a bit too tidy and mystical for my tastes as well, but I can't get into that too much without spoiling it for you, and this is a movie very much worth seeing.

"Get Low" won't be remembered as one of the great films of Duvall's career, but it's certainly the best he's done in years. Not as worthy as Boo and Scout, no, but a fine way to spend an evening.

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