This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 27th February 2011
What a cast. Everybody’s favourite ghostbuster, the honorary son of the godfather, and the coalminer’s daughter. Nevermind the director has only made an Oscar-winning short until now, Get Low promised to be something special.
Robert Duvall is back with shotgun cocked in a central role that owns the film, playing the reclusive Felix Bush, living in self-imposed exile for 40 years while the town he tries to avoid conjures up wild anecdotes about his life. When faced with his own mortality, Bush decides to find out what people really think of him by throwing himself a funeral and inviting anyone with a story to come tell it – if they dare. (Cue one character to deny any such knowledge, stating “Gossip is the devil’s radio”.)
It’s a promising set-up for anyone who’s ever asked the question “What if I threw a funeral, and nobody came?”. The idea is even more enticing when Bush commissions local funeral director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) to plan the party for him. Murray is a delight to watch, conveying dashes of humour with just a twitch of his eye rather than overplaying his role, as in the polarising Lost in Translation. But he’s only on screen for a modest amount of time, standing back to let the legendary Duvall show us how it’s done. Lucas Black cleans his slate of a sequel to The Fast and the Furious by offering solid support as the sympathetic Buddy, and Sissy Spacek’s Mattie is sweet enough.
The film starts well – languid photography and a charming soundtrack take us back to 1930s Tennessee, and the cinematographer’s previous work on the critically acclaimed “Deadwood” is evident. Questions are asked and answers left as late as possible without annoying the audience. The fatal flaw, however, is that the low-key, laidback tone stalls the film’s momentum, and by the time we finally reach the funeral to hear whatever it is Bush wants to tell us, we scarcely care. Fine performances from a sterling cast cannot raise this film from its pre-dug grave, so we’re probably best to toss our handful of earth on to the casket and move on.