After the brief image of a house burning down, we flash forward to a rural setting in the 1930's to see an old home inhabited by a reclusive, elderly man, Felix Bush (Duvall), whose disheveled appearance and reputation are the stuff of rumor and legend. Are the stories about him true? Is he a killer? Haunted by visions of a woman, he decides to arrange his own funeral before his actual demise. The funeral home is run by Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and his loyal assistant, Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black). Felix wants to invite everyone who has a story about him to tell. He sweetens the pot by offering to raffle off his vast acreage of property. He also runs into an old acquaintance, Mattie (Sissy Spacek), who has strong ties to him from way back. He later pays a visit to a preacher in another town in hopes of having him conduct the eulogy. As the plot thickens, we find that Felix is hiding a painful secret that will have the town reexamining its prejudices and assumptions about a tortured soul who is struggling for his own redemption before it's too late.
Novice director Aaron Schneider, whose previous credits were as a cinematographer of various TV shows and movies, does a solid job with a modest budget and a lean story and script by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell.
It's nice to see veteran actors like Duvall, Spacek, and Murray play older characters, wrinkles and all with enthusiasm and conviction. Duvall does a splendid job of presenting a cipher of a man whose words are sparse and direct and slowly, as the story develops, begins to open up to reveal a complex person replete with feelings of guilt. There are reasons perhaps for why he is the way he is. Duvall is destined for an Oscar nomination, and Spacek arguably deserves a nod for strong support. Bill Murray as the funeral director does a convincing job as a businessman who isn't quite a villain or hero. He is carving a nice career niche as a dramatic character actor (aside from being a comedic superstar).
The film successfully evokes the period of depression era, small town USA. There are few items to quibble about; however, a violent break in at the funeral home doesn't really forward the plot and is never fully explained.
There are similarities in Felix and the noble character in The Ballad of Cable Hogue. In both films, the protagonist is an aged, stubborn loner, and in the end, as his life is in its twilight, the truth sets him free. Perhaps the lesson here is that each person has a story, and some of the stories are not always evident. With Get Low, we get to see the bittersweet tale of a broken heart. Your heart will be moved too.