There Will Be Hermit

Get Low ★★★
(USA/Germany/Poland, 103 min)
Dir: Aaron Schneider
Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black, Bill Cobbs.
Get Low might be more appropriately titled Ye Olde Six Feete Under. Schneider’s film seems heavily inspired by the hit HBO series (that and There Will Be Blood) but it pales in comparison. Get Low, a black comedy about death and redemption, is neither funny nor deeply moving. Yes, it inspires a grin or chuckle here and there, but, overall, it conjures up a sense of indifference.

Get Low is the rather preposterous story about a hermit (Robert Duvall), who, in the opening scenes, spends his days posting “No Trespassing” signs around his property and chasing away little hooligans with his shotgun while snarling, “Get off my lawn.” Felix (the hermit) has an abrupt change of heart when an old friend of yesteryear dies of old age. Felix decides that he wants to be remembered fondly by the townspeople he’s spooked the past forty-odd years (kinda like Boo Radley), so he decides to throw a big funeral party at which people can tell their stories about him and he can finally set the record straight about his troubled past.

Felix’s desire to be well liked his community creates such an abrupt shift in the interpretation of Get Low and makes it hard to get understand the character in the early scenes. Felix goes from Rumpelstiltskin to Mr. Rogers in just one cut. Moreover, it’s hard to believe the townspeople’s desire to attend the party: the first scenes depict Felix as openly reviled by his community, yet they flock about like kids getting the Golden Ticket to see Willy Wonka once it’s announced that they can get a glimpse of their crotchety old hermit.

This is partly due to the buzz Felix creates when he decides to sell lottery tickets to raffle off his estate. This ploy divides the undertakers whom Felix has hired to stage the “funeral party”. Quinn (Bill Murray) is thrilled by the cheap ploy and exploits the folklore surrounding Felix to earn a few bucks. His apprentice, Buddy (Lucas Black), feels sorry for Felix and is shaken by the fact that he is abetting gambling on a man’s life. Murray is a lot of fun as Quinn, who seems more like a sleazy used car salesman than a funeral director (it was actually his last profession). Murray gives the right blend of deadpan delivery and macabre goofiness to redeem Get Low in its aspirations at dark humor. Black, however, stumbles along with an overbearing earnestness that is more off-putting than endearing.
Duvall gives an admirable performance, although his Felix doesn’t really live up to the hype that has been building since Get Low played on the festival circuit last year. Duvall isn’t really given all that much to do in many scenes, besides mash his gums together and stroke his beard. In some scenes, however, he really shows the audience the inner turmoil that has been building within Felix during his forty-year exile. When Felix confronts a preacher from his past (Bill Cobbs) to say the eulogy at the party, the preacher refuses and what ensues is a poignant breakdown in Felix’s shield of stoicism. Duvall’s scenes with Spacek, as his old flame Mattie, are also quite touching.

Much of the disappointment of Get Low comes from the fact that the film seems to build towards a major revelation as everyone speculates about what Felix will say to atone for his past. When the party actually happens, it is rather anticlimactic. While Duvall gives an impassioned delivery of Felix’s story, the emotional crux of the film is muted by the fact that most of the camera’s attention is on Mattie. As Mattie, Spacek is quite moving when her character finally hears the truth about her lover’s past, but it’s a bit of a letdown that when the big moment of the film finally arrives, our attention is focused on the secondary characters and not on Felix himself. Additionally, Get Low is undercut by a loud, often annoying score. The twangy bluegrass is frequently intrusive and lends a comical undermines the dramatic moments of the film.

Get Low is mostly saved by the strength of the performances by Duvall, Murray, and Spacek. There is a lot of admirable work on display here, but because of the frequently muted drama, Get Low amounts to film that is as cold as a dead hermit.