Review: Get Low

What do you do when you run a funeral home but everyone in the community persists in living?  That’s the dilemma faced by Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) in Get Low.  It would be awfully rude to wish for someone, anyone, to die, but how’s a guy supposed to run a successful business under these circumstances?  Luckily for Quinn, an old hermit by the name of Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) comes to him with a novel idea.  He wants to throw a massive funeral party… while he’s still alive.

I’ve long said I will judge the quality of this movie by its ability to make me desist thinking about the Lil’ John song of the same name.  When Felix says the words “it’s time to get low,” he uses it as a phrase meaning “get down to business.”  That’s exactly what Duvall does in this role, uttering this phrase and creating an original character with such conviction that it will be instantly memorable over any catchy rap song.

This is a role that could have come across as hokey and cartoonish, an ornery old man with a huge beard and a sign on the edge of his massive property that reads “no damn tresspassing – beware of mule,” but Duvall plays it like the old pro that he is and gives Felix a heart and humanity that we can’t help but connect with.

Felix is a character who has been cooped up in his own home for the better part of 40 years, yet everyone in town seems to know who he is through the many grossly exaggerated myths and legends of him that have been passed throughout the surrounding villages.  These are the types of stories he wants to hear at his funeral party.  There are also some hints dropped about a terrible deed committed long ago that has forced Felix to essentially imprison himself for the past four decades.

Quinn’s young salesman, in a surprisingly strong performance from Lucas Black (Friday Night Lights), manages to break through Felix’s rough exterior and gain his trust.  He’s really the catalyst for bringing together what has become a massive intercommunity event.  The always charming Sissy Spacek also makes an appearance as a former flame who sees the old man a bit differently than most everyone else.

Get Low is an example of classic storytelling at its finest.  Set in the 1930s, Felix’s home is exclusively illuminated by fire light in the late night scenes.  This allows for some authentic and old-fashioned shot opportunities for cinematographer David Boyd, reminiscent of the work done on Terrence Malick’s films in the ’70s.  The story briefly treads some water in the middle third, but is otherwise focused in driving forward this study of a fascinating character.

When the revelation made about Felix’s past is finally revealed it might not be as devastating as one would expect, but that makes him all the more real.  And that whole “Best Actor” thing?  I know it’s only August, but Duvall might just have it wrapped up already.

Rating: 8/10

RIYL:  O’Brother, Where Art Though? Sorry, I’m drawing a blank… either that, or we’re just looking at a very original and unique movie here.

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