Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Program Length: 103 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English, French Stereo
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
They keep talking about forgiveness. "Ask Jesus for forgiveness." I never did nothing to him.
I suspect that every small town has had its own Boo Radley, the mysterious, secretive, reclusive man played by Robert Duvall in the film adaptation of Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." In the village where I grew up our Boo Radley was a woman, Mrs. Blaney. I never knew her first name. She lived in a small house on the outskirts of town with her son, who was several years older than me. If there was a Mr. Blaney, I do not recall ever seeing him or even hearing anyone mention him. Mrs. Blaney did not like kids playing near her house, but it really was not a problem for her because most of us were afraid to go near the place. The story we heard, handed down to us by older kids, was that Mrs. Blaney was crazy, and supposedly she had once brandished a butcher knife while chasing a boy off of her property. This not being the sort of thing a child spoke to his parents about, I never learned if there was any truth to it. I suspect that it was wildly exaggerated, if not entirely apocryphal.
Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, the Boo Radley of the depression-era rural Georgia town where Get Low takes place. Bush, his face mostly hidden by a beard which has not been trimmed in years, lives alone in a cabin located deep in the woods. We learn that he has in fact lived that way for the past forty years, a lifestyle which has led to wild speculation and rumors about him. There are hints of a cataclysmic event in his life, the nature of which is initially unclear. However, it soon becomes apparent that there was a tragedy involving a woman.
Bush's solitude is interrupted one day when a man drives up to inform him that an old acquaintance has died. This leads Bush to contemplate his own mortality. After a visit to the cemetery he goes through a small box of personal items and stares at a photograph of a woman. Convinced that he is dying, he gets out of bed and walks though the rain to his barn to spend his last night in the company of his only friend, his mule Gracie. "I always thought you'd go first," he says to her before he falls asleep. Much to his surprise, he wakes up in the morning and finds the sun shining. He hitches the mule to his wagon and heads into town to see the local preacher (Gerald McRaney). He tells the preacher that although he apparently is not dying, he wants to make arrangements for his own funeral. Bush offers a roll of bills to pay for it, but the preacher is not interested unless the old man is prepared to ask for divine forgiveness for his sins. Bush then picks up his money and leaves.
Enter Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), the owner of the local funeral parlor. Quinn, who bemoans the fact that not enough people are dying to keep him in business, learns about Bush's visit to the preacher from his assistant, Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black). Quinn decides that if the preacher is not willing to give Bush a proper funeral, he and Buddy will do it. They drive out to Bush's cabin in a hearse and Quinn sends Buddy in to make the sales pitch. The young assistant's sincerity wins over Bush, who later meets with Quinn and informs him that what he really wants is not a funeral, but a funeral party. Bush knows that stories about him have been spread for years. Indeed, every person he speaks to admits to knowing a story about him but is reluctant to repeat it to his face. He tells Quinn and Buddy, "I want everybody to come who's got a story to tell about me." Quinn seizes upon this as the opportunity to put on the biggest event the town has ever known.
Quinn and Buddy are surprised to learn that there is one person in town who actually knows Felix Bush. Mattie (Sissy Spacek) had recently returned to the area where she grew up after having lived with her late husband in faraway places such at St. Louis. It turns out that she and Felix had actually been an item at one time, but it also is revealed that the two of them had shared in the tragedy which ultimately led to him becoming a hermit. Whatever Felix did, he is seeking forgiveness - just not the kind of forgiveness which comes from an entity which, to Felix's mind, may not even exist.
The revelation, when it comes, is neither as mysterious nor as shocking as the viewer may have been anticipating. However, it is believable and heartfelt, and is convincingly delivered by one of the greatest actors of his generation. Duvall is ably supported by Murray as the conniving undertaker who manages to turn a funeral party into a money-making carnival. Sissy Spacek is equally convincing as Felix's old flame, and Lucas Black turns in a fine performance as the naive young assistant who finds himself in the de facto role of Felix's caretaker. Bill Cobbs also is outstanding as a black preacher who is the only person who knows the true details of Felix's life. Get Low is said to be based upon a true story, and director Aaron Schneider has created a tapestry which looks, sounds and feels authentic. Get Low is more about its characters than its plot, but they are intriguing characters you will not soon forget.
The 2.35:1 1080p Blu-ray transfer is outstanding in every respect. Cinematographer David Boyd has done a superb job of capturing the beauty of rural Georgia. Detail and sharpness are excellent, allowing the viewer to see evidence of the trials of Felix Bush's life in every line of his face. Colors and flesh tones are accurate, black levels are inky, and shadow detail is very good. The picture is accurately framed and the overall effect is very pleasing and film-like.
The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio is excellent in every respect. Dialogue is clear and understandable. The surround channels are used primarily to provide subtle ambient sounds, but there are some moments when they provide some punch, such as one scene involving a spooked mule and a brief but violent fight. The audio also does full justice to Jan A. P. Kaczmarek's evocative, period-appropriate score.
There are plenty of extras on this Blu-ray release.
There is an informative and entertaining commentary track with Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, director Aaron Schneider and producer Dean Zanuck.
"The Deep South: Buried Secrets" is an 8-minute "making of" featurette which discusses the genesis of the film, the difficulties in getting financing, the scouting of locations, and other aspects of the production.
"Get Low: Getting Into Character" is a 9-minute featurette which explores the casting of the principal characters in the film. Each actor gets an opportunity to discuss his or her character.
"A Screenwriter's Point of View" is a 5-minute featurette which gives screenwriter C. Gaby Mitchell an opportunity to discuss his background, his influences and his method of working.
A question and answer session conducted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City features Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, director Aaron Schneider, and others who were involved in the production. This segment runs for 9 minutes.
"On the Red Carpet" shows members of the cast and crew, as well as other celebrities such as James Caan and Jon Lovitz, being asked how they would plan their own funerals if given the chance.
Sony also has included the theatrical trailer for Get Low, as well as trailers for Another Year, Inside Job, The Illusionist, Made in Dagenham, and Barney's Version.
BD-Live features will be enabled on the release date.
The single Blu-ray disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.
The Final Analysis
In spite of its stellar cast, Get Low had a difficult time finding an audience during its theatrical run. Part of this, I believe, is that the studio did not know how to market it. The theatrical trailer, which as noted is included on the disc, pitches the film as a comedy. While Get Low certainly has its share of wry humor and witty dialogue, there is considerably more drama and pathos. While it may not appeal to all tastes, Get Low is a wonderful opportunity to see excellent actors performing at their best in a first-class production.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: February 22, 2011