Review by Gene
Guilt can cause a man to do some funny things. I suppose becoming a hermit for 40 years isn’t any stranger than many others. When it comes to Mr. Felix Bush, he figures that’s long enough to finally come out with his story at his funeral party, which he plans to attend.
Robert Duvall stars as Felix Bush in this 2009 period piece directed by Aaron Schneider. This was Schneider’s first, and so far his only feature length motion picture. Schneider was able to assemble a superb cast that even a veteran director would covet, and he didn’t let it go to waste. Joining Duvall is Bill Murray as funeral home owner Frank Quinn, Lucas Black (Friday Night Lights) as Quinn’s employee Buddy, and Sissy Spacek rounds out the main cast as Felix’s long-lost flame Mattie Darrow.
Felix Bush has subjected himself to a life of solitude for over 40 years. Adults in town with families of their own can remember hearing stories about him when they were kids. He’s developed a reputation for himself without actually doing much of anything. He senses his time is about up and he wants to settle up his affairs. But he’s doing more that just ensuring his family gets his estate rather than Uncle Sam. He wants to arrange his own funeral. And attend it. He wants to hear the stories people would tell about him. Or so he tells Mr. Quinn. As the film progresses, Felix makes it clear he could care less what others have to say about him, he has something he needs to get off his chest.
To begin the film, we’re shown a home ablaze set against the midnight sky, and a man diving from the second story window. He’s able to escape with his life, and it’s inferred that this man is our hermit, Mr. Bush. He’s run away from something. Something he’s so ashamed of he cut himself off from everyone. But he wants this story to be told. In seeking someone out to do that for him, we’re introduced to Charlie Jackson (Bill Cobbs). Charlie is the minister at a country church, and the first man Felix came to so long ago on that fiery night. But this isn’t Charlie’s confession to make. Charlie asks Felix if he’s done the right thing: confessed and asked forgiveness. Felix says, “I built my own jail and put myself in it… for 40 years… that’s not enough?”. Charlie’s answer is short and to the point. “You know it’s not”.
Felix thought 40 years should have been long enough to prove his remorse. Long enough to earn someone telling this story for him. Saying the things he couldn’t bear to say. Forty years. That’s not enough? The thing is, there’s no such thing as “enough” if you’re expecting to earn your forgiveness.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” -Ephesians 2:8,9
We can’t earn God’s forgiveness. We can’t save ourselves by accomplishing some task because there is no task which brings us to the level of God’s holiness. We may feel we deserve the pity of men. We may try to show how sorry we are and expect their compassion and forgiveness. But God doesn’t operate on the understanding of men.
Get Low tells the story of a man seeking forgiveness but unable, or unwilling, to put a voice to it. This is a struggle that I think many can relate to. Perhaps our sins aren’t as dire as Felix Bush, but all in our own right have things for which we need forgiveness. Often times we place ourselves in the role of arbitrator of whatever punishment we deem suiting. We make ourselves our own judge. Felix Bush was no different. In one critical moment he confesses, “I needed to hold on to what I did. To be sick from it every day of my life.” Despite his efforts, the guilt remained. It wasn’t until he confessed his deeds, and sought forgiveness, that he was free of the guilt.
For his first feature length film, Schneider does a terrific job at pacing the film without it feeling drawn out. Much credit for that can also go to Bill Murray. While I do love Mr. Murray, he seems a bit out of place in a 1930’s, Tennessee backwoods setting. It’s like his persona is outside of the realm in which he’s placed. A wise move was to make his character originally from Chicago so his perspective makes sense. None of that critique goes so far as to say he doesn’t work in this film. On the contrary, if not for his special ability to deliver the simplest of lines and draw a laugh, the bulk of the middle of the film would have struggled to hold my attention.
The trio of Duvall, Murray and Lucas Black really works well, despite how strange those all sound together. Each character, Sissy Spacek’s included, is given their own smaller arc tangential to Felix Bush’s central storyline. Jan A.P. Kaczmarek creates a warm soundtrack that at times brings O’ Brother Where Art Thou to mind. The writing is solid and never seems to be at odds with the strength of these actors.
My Rating: 4/5
Much of one’s opinion of this movie will be determined by your liking of Robert Duvall in general. He doesn’t deviate much from his strengths as an actor, and that remains true in Get Low. There are a couple of scenes that don’t feature him, but he really carries the entirety of the film. In particular, the funeral party the film leads up to, and Duvall’s performance there, will decide if you think this film is very good, or just alright. I loved Duvall’s delivery, his mannerisms in relaying his emotion were great and it took this movie from about a 3 or 3.5 to a 4 for me. Get Low is streaming on Netflix and is rated PG-13 for some language including taking the Lord’s name in vain. What did you think of this film?