There's something achingly human and simple in every Robert Duvall performance. He's been in bad movies (Get Low is one of his best), but he's been in more good ones, and he's often directly responsible for their success with his simple honesty and lived-in authenticity.
Expect Oscar to come calling once again for Mr. Duvall's work here. This is a powerhouse performance matched with a measured, heartbreaking drama set in the backwoods of Tennessee during the years of the Depression. Its central figure is a man named Felix Bush (Duvall) who has hid hermit-like from his neighbors and town folk for 40 years. The circumstances behind his situation are largely a mystery, but tales range from his once killing a man to being in league with the devil himself.
The truth is much trickier, and it slowly, gradually comes to the fore after Bush enlists the aid of sly funeral director Frank Quinn (a sublime Bill Murray) and his decent, family man assistant Buddy Robinson (Slingblade's Lucas Black grown up) to help him stage a "live funeral." Bush plans to invite the entire community to come tell their tales about him while he's still living and, just maybe, one of them or Bush himself will reveal the real truth.
The pleasures of the film lie primarily in the cast, which is uniformly excellent and includes Sissy Spacek as widow Mattie Darrow and underrated Bill Cobbs as Rev. Charlie Jackson. These two wisened characters offer unique insights into Felix's soul, which Duvall bares on a figurative and literal altar for everyone to see. It's sort of a summation of the actor's entire lengthy, remarkable career. Duvall shows no hesitancy inhabiting a man who has loved and lived and has lived on with infinite regrets - his demons are etched in every fiber of his being. He is incapable of being anything but what he is - a haunted, unforgettable man.
Early on in my summer adventure, actor Peter Weller appeared at a screening and said something I kept thinking about when I was watching this film - "Every movie you've ever loved, in the end, is about redemption." It's also about connection, and family, and friends, and memory, and everything that happens when you seek out, lose track of, or rediscover those things over and over again. With this outstanding picture, first-time director Aaron Schneider knows he has a gift in this straightforward story and these superlative performers, and wisely, he steps out of the way and lets the camera take them in.
Each Robert Duvall performance is one to be treasured...Tom Hagen in The Godfather...Lieutenant Kilgore in Apocalypse Now...Gus McCrae in "Lonesome Dove"...the detective in Falling Down...Boss Spearman in Open Range...The Great Santini...The Apostle. If you have a favorite, definitely comment below with the role, and why it made a lasting impression on you. And if you can, go seek out a film featuring Mr. Duvall, to be reminded again why he's one of our greatest living actors.