Casting an actor with the history and pedigree of Robert Duvall in the kind of career-culminating role he's given in the drama “Get Low” poses a challenge. Putting such a seasoned performer on-screen in such a plum position raises expectations for the supporting material, which is where “Get Low,” a likeable movie about a codger on a quest to produce his own funeral, falls a little short.
The minor characters, story and art direction are adequate for an average period film, but average and adequate are far below what's required to keep pace with a star such as Duvall, who gives a memorable and heartfelt interpretation of a wizened recluse at odds with society. Everything looks more average the better Duvall is, and, as you might expect, he can be very good.
He plays Felix Bush, a recluse warding off inquisitive children from his rustic property deep in the Tennessee woods when a near-death experience prompts him to go to town looking for funeral arrangements. The journey introduces him to two enterprising funeral-home owners, Frank (Bill Murray) and Buddy (Lucas Black), who help Bush arrange a funeral he can attend while he's still alive. The endeavor stirs up old resentments and memories, including a former girlfriend of Bush's (Sissy Spacek) and the mystery of Bush's long and self-imposed seclusion.
Duvall is the center of attention for the most part, and his Felix Bush has no problem holding audience attention with his shrewd gaze and laconic wit. The movie weakens and shows some Hallmark colors, however, whenever it strays from Duvall. Director Aaron Schneider, a longtime cinematographer, has trouble recreating a realistic time and place, exacerbated by the direction of Murray and Black, who come off too comic and inexperienced, respectively.
The story is also too schematic, favoring the buildup to a loaded surprise ending over character development. The old guy is really interesting, and Duvall is at times excellent. But the story woven around him is too concerned with its own narrative cleverness and bathing itself in sentiment. “It's time for me to get low,” Bush states. We get only a token idea of what he means. (PG-13) 102 min.