| The superb acting of Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek trumps by a country mile the skimpy true story of a mysterious Tennessee hermit who threw his own funeral party in 1938 while he was still alive.
After a self-imposed exile for 40 years, backwoods recluse Felix Bush (Duvall sporting a massive white beard) rides into town on a mule-driven cart and goes directly to the church. He is wearing tattered clothes and carrying a wad of cash. The title of the movie comes from the lines he delivers to the Rev. Gus Horton (Gerald McRaney from “Deadwood”): “Bout time for me to get low. Down to business. I need a funeral.”
Bush is subsequently called on at his cabin in the woods by the fast-talking and unscrupulous local undertaker Frank Quinn (Murray) and his young apprentice Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black from “Sling Blade”).
Bush wants anybody from the outlying four counties who has a story to tell about him to come to the funeral. He even sweetens the pot by announcing on the radio a $5 per ticket drawing to inherit his 800 acres of timberland where his cabin is located. Bush’s real intent is to get the truth out about why he became a loner and to seek forgiveness.
The third act payoff doesn’t amount to much and is a letdown. The key to the secret he’s been keeping all these years is his framed photograph of a woman.
The movie opens with a two-story house on fire and someone running away in the darkness from the carnage. Two important people from Felix’s past, Mattie Darrow (Spacek), a widowed piano teacher, and the Rev. Charlie Jackson (Bill Cobbs from “Night at the Museum”), an Illinois preacher, are crucial to the emotional dramatic arc.
This folksy homespun legend benefits from a soundtrack of old-fashioned tunes and authentic period detail reflected in the cars, clothes and storefronts on the main street.
Duvall gives a masterful performance dealing with his cantankerous character’s mortality. He is a guilt-ridden lost soul who draws sympathy for a wasted life.
Cinematographer-turned-director Aaron Schneider premiered the film at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. A slow nationwide rollout follows screenings at a dozen film festivals including Sundance and Tribeca earlier this year.
This movie brings to mind “That Evening Sun,” a superior film with a more compelling story about old age and an outstanding lead performance by Hal Holbrook.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"