"Get Low" bills itself as "Based on a True Tall Tale" which suggests that the story is more likely folklore than factual. However, what's far more important for cinematic purposes is that what allegedly transpired in 1938 in Roane County, Tennessee be presented in a plausible and entertaining fashion up on the screen.
Fortunately, such is the case with this character-driven, costume drama, thanks to a compelling, cleverly-concealed script and a talented cast topped by a couple of Academy Award-winners. Coincidentally, co-stars Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek both earned their Oscars for portrayals of country singers, in Tender Mercies and Coal Miner's Daughter, respectively.
This similarly Southern-tinged outing revolves around Felix "Bush" Breazeale (Duvall), an aging recluse who has lived alone in the woods for over forty years. He retreated there after being implicated in the death of Mary Lee Stroup (Arin Logan), a young woman who perished in a house fire under suspicious circumstances. Although the details are murky at the point of departure, it is abundantly clear that the incident left the still-grieving geezer with a bad reputation in the region.
Sensing that "It's about time for me to get low," meaning pass away and be buried six-feet under, Bush has decided to return to town to throw his own funeral. So, he pays a visit to the local undertaker to inquire whether his wake might be staged while he's still alive. Unscrupulous Mr. Quinn (Bill Murray) goes along with the unusual request, merely to take advantage financially of what he thinks is an addlepated old fool, unaware that there's a method to the gruff mountain man's madness.
For Bush subsequently summons to the morbid gathering everyone "who has a story to tell about me." His goal? To make the most of the 11th hour opportunity to refute, albeit belatedly, the many rumors which have circulated unchallenged in his absence for so long. The plan is for the service to be presided over by Reverends Horton (Gerald McRaney) and Jackson (Bill Cobbs), and foremost among the guests expected to attend is the late Mary Lee's sister, Mattie (Spacek), a woman with good reason to be skeptical about the not quite deceased's motivations.
Finally, once the naysayers have spoken, Bush steps to the pulpit to take a last shot at redemption, delivering a stirring, explanatory soliloquy before throwing himself on the mercy of the community. Duvall turns in another one of his trademark performances, thereby almost singlehandedly making the production memorable.
A moving morality play about the steep price guilt is capable of exacting on a tortured soul consumed with overwhelming regret
Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and brief violence.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
To see a trailer for Get Low