Based in part on the true story of a legendary Tennessee loner from the 1930s, Get Low starts with a fever dream, a house afire and a figure, a man who dives from an upper story window and staggers off as the house continues to burn. We are to assume that the mysterious survivor of the blaze was Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), the mythic old hermit every rural community used to whisper about, but we wonder what happened inside and if there were others who failed to make it out.
When next we see him, he’s doing what crazy country hermits do – scaring the piss out a young boy who dares to poke around Bush’s house for a look at the old man. Soon after that, he’s beating the tar out of a man in town, someone who dared to address him, boldly warning the old man to leave the town and its good citizens alone, because everyone knows he’s not suitable for proper society.
Bush ventured in to ask the church pastor (Gerald McRaney) to handle his funeral. He came with a fat wad of money and a plan, one that catches the attention of Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) who runs the one and only funeral home in town, along with his earnest assistant Buddy (Lucas Black). The plan, such as it is, involves a hosting a funeral before Bush’s death, one in which the whole town is invited to come and tell stories about Bush, every tall tale, lie, fable and whispered half-truth, to lay it all to rest, and maybe even discover the whole unvarnished truth about the man and that burning house.
After he meets Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), we learn that they had a brief relationship, which generates a low-key rivalry between Bush and the huckster Quinn, but further deepens and becomes more sordid when we realize that Bush may have also been involved with Darrow’s sister who died under mysterious circumstances.
It is a pleasure to watch Duvall engaged with old pros like Spacek and Murray. Murray, in particular, infuses the expected comedic elements, but he’s never playing the lines strictly for laughs.
For all the heavy hitters though, the real surprise is Black’s Buddy. He is the figure audiences most identify with because through him we can see the effect Bush has on those young enough to have been spooked by the old man, but who, later on, could be awed by his authenticity and mannered charm.
Director Aaron Schneider takes the helm of his first feature film and digs deep into the material. He guides his cast down into the depths where they can get dirty in the messy affairs and secrets, knowing of course that everything will come clean in the end. (tt stern-enzi)