'Get Low' is a film to be savored

Because film is so intensely visual, because it can explore with subtlety and nuance an individual's idiosyncrasies and tics — a unique way of standing, the set of the shoulders, the look in the eyes, the tone of voice and set of the mouth — it is the perfect medium for characterization.

The film, "Get Low," is an engaging study of one Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a mysterious and cantankerous recluse who has lived in the woods of eastern Tennessee (Missouri, perhaps?) for some 40 years and been the subject of endless curiosity and speculation by the townies of Caleb County. The year is 1938.

A local preacher appears one morning, bringing Felix a message that a long-ago friend has died, news that reminds him that he, too, is nearing the end of his life. In a moment of inspiration, Felix rides into town on a wagon, pulled by his aging mule, and visits local mortician, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), and his assistant, Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black).

Felix's wish is to have a live funeral and insists he wants to invite anyone in the county that may have a story to tell about him (real or imagined).

And so the quirky story unfolds as Frank and Buddy begin the task of promoting and organizing Felix's funeral as well as planning a lottery, the prize to be his land and house ($5 per ticket). What is not evident at first is that Felix has another agenda that involves an event buried deep in his past.

As an actor, Duvall is transformative. He inhabits Felix Bush, at first a man obscured behind a mass of beard and hair, and later hidden behind truths that he has held close for four decades.

In one early scene, he is pounding a "No Damn Trespassing" sign into the ground near the entry road to his house — kids keep creeping onto his property and spying on him as if it were a rite of passage. The admonishment doesn't just pertain to his land but to him as well. He has kept people at a distance, choosing to live as a hermit in a place apart, his hostile silence palatable and unwavering whenever he ventures into town. The question is, Why? And after all of these years, why a public funeral where he will speak?

"Get Low" is beautifully photographed and filled with fine performances. Duvall has appeared in countless films spanning a 50-year career, often as a gifted supporting actor in movies such as "Crazy Heart," "The Road" and, of course, "The Great Santini." Here he carries the film with understated confidence and artistry. Murray's portrayal of an oily funeral director is spot-on, as is Sissy Spacek in the role of Felix's past sweetheart. And not to forget the work of Bill Cobbs as a resolute Illinois preacher and friend to Felix. In fact the film is rich with fine performances, large and small, and the period — America emerging from the Depression — is wonderfully recreated.

"Get Low" is a quiet and deliberative film, one to be savored. It's also a celebration of what film can achieve when fine storytelling and fine acting merge, creating a top-drawer if not synergistic filmgoing experience.

The Town

"The Town," co-written and directed by Ben Affleck, is a pulpy, hard-edged heist film. It displays Affleck's talent not only as a solid actor — he portrays Doug McCray, resident of Charlestown, an Irish, working-class guy whose avocation is sticking up armored cars and robbing banks — but as a fine director who has clearly learned a great deal about moviemaking.

"The Town" follows Affleck's well-regarded "Gone Baby Gone," also set in the gritty Boston environs and a movie that captures the raw, often violent aspects of the town and its hardscrabble people.

Affleck is a generous filmmaker and has brought together an exceptional ensemble of actors, led by the talented Jeremy Renner from "The Hurt Locker." Renner portrays McCray's childhood friend, Jim, a borderline psychopath who relishes the harrowing danger and the confrontations of the robberies. As well, Rebecca Hall gives a subtle and engaging performance as Claire Keesey, a bank manager whose life is changed profoundly when her bank is held up by Affleck's crew and she's briefly taken hostage. Worried that she might be able to identify them, McCray seeks her out to determine what she remembers and things get complicated.

"The Town" is more than a B-film. It tells a taut story, one that is unrelenting and interesting, pausing long enough to examine the complexity of McCray who begins to sense that his life is dead-ending and he feels trapped by his choices. When he's told by Jim and the men they front for, who are some seriously hard cases, that there is no exit, he yields. And so the scene is set for one more major job at Fenway Park. It turns out to be a riveting and protracted payroll robbery that demonstrates Affleck's skills behind the camera. The action scenes are intense and tightly rendered.

It's all but impossible to watch "The Town" and not be reminded of the classic heist movie, "Heat" — underrated when it was released several years ago, starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, a film that summarizes in so many ways the power of the durable heist genre. Like "The Town," it's spare and realistic with a gritty urban carapace that works from the first frame.

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