Of all the actors who broke through in the 1960s, Robert Duvall is one of the great ones, ranking up there with Gene Hackman and Michael Caine. Yet with rare exception, it's hard to think of a great Robert Duvall performance following his career-topper in the 1989 TV miniseries Lonesome Dove. Even his most acclaimed work since then, such as his Oscar-nominated turns in The Apostle and A Civil Action, hardly seems like a stretch for a man of his considerable talents. Duvall's usually incapable of delivering a performance that's less than acceptable, but his rigid devotion to the image of the folksy Southern sage does mean that — his brief bit in The Road excepted — he's long lost the ability to surprise.
Get Low finds Duvall in familiar territory: He plays Felix Bush, a 1930s Tennessee hermit who has lived in self-imposed exile for decades, untroubled by the ugly rumors perpetuated by the nearby townspeople. But Felix needs help to pull off his unique idea — he wants a funeral party thrown for him while he's still living, so he can attend it and finally reveal his deep, dark secret — so he turns to a shady funeral home director, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), to handle the preparations.
Felix's unburdening of his secret to a mob of partygoers (how radical these days to see a non-CGI-created crowd scene) feels anticlimactic given the lengthy buildup, and the plot points directly tied to this event — flashbacks, testy relationships with old acquaintances — stir little interest. Where the movie succeeds is in its ability to successfully pit Duvall's no-nonsense Felix against Murray's calculating Frank. Rather than appearing out of place in this rustic setting, Murray flourishes, relying on his trademark wit and deadpan delivery to not only bring out the best in Duvall but also to frequently one-up him. An Oscar campaign is guaranteed to be built around Duvall, but it's really Murray who allows Get Low to hit its high notes.