As impossible as it is to imagine, Robert Duvall outdoes himself as an actor and a model of restraint in Get Low. Inevitably, comparisons to his Oscar-winning starring role in Tender Mercies and even his young turn as Boo Radley in the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird will be made. But there is nothing about this performance that could have happened without the seasoning of the years that the 79-year-old Duvall brings to his role as Felix Bush, a tortured man who chooses four decades of self-exile in restitution for the mysterious event that blazes at the film’s start.

To get something obvious out of the way, we’ll note that Bill Murray has never used his powers of ironic commentary more fully than in his role as Frank Quinn, a funeral director in a town that is as contrary in matters of death as it is gritty in day-to-day living. His portrayal of a man whose disappointments dance below the surface of a salesman’s can-do imperatives is as nuanced as it is bull’s-eye precise.

But for our purposes, Sissy Spacek is the story. The slender shoot of a girl has become a substantial oak of woman, and in her role as Maggie she carries burdens that would buckle anyone with a lesser spine than hers.  Here is an actor aging in ways that only make more translucent the places where we are meant to peek at parts of ourselves. Here is a grace that acknowledges the sadness of the woman she is portraying while reaching for and capturing the gladness of another day as life offers more things gone than to come. Here is a woman who can wear a period costume as if she were on a Milan runway, with no self-consciousness and full understanding that the eyes are the window to the character under the hat.

We should all be so lucky to age with our gifts as prominently displayed as Ms. Spacek’s. We should all give thanks that this role was written and she was cast in it. Undoubtedly, Duvall will dominate the Academy Award buzz, but she is the angel circling this film and the reason it never stalls in dark comedy, but remains loyal to the beating heart of a drama that insists humor is how we cope when tragedy is undeniable. Get Low is a killer movie that may or may not find its audience. Bring tissues, marvel at Spacek and her fellow artists, and know that you might wish that you, like Murray’s Frank Quinn, had a pocket flask along too.

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  • Beverly Schwartz October 3, 2010 at 10:26 am

    It’s everything Laura says it is; go see it!