Leave it to Robert Duvall to carry this film and possibly pick up an Oscar nomination. I’m not going to call him a front runner, but with this performance, expect him to be on a whole lot of year end lists.

Duvall, for those asking, plays Felix Bush, a hermit who lives in a cabin (probably built by his own hands) nearing the end of his life. He gets the idea one day, after hearing of another person’s passing, to stage a funeral, but to do so while he’s still alive. A party for himself, essentially. The church doesn’t buy into it – apparently Bush doesn’t need to pay, only ask for forgiveness, both of which he’ll subsequently do throughout the film – but an unscrupulous funeral director, Frank Quinn, does (Murray, channeling what makes him great), immediately noticing the wad of cash and imagining a big pay off in the end. His assistant, Buddy Robinson (Black, in a capable and competent role), has a reluctance at first, but Bush finds a sort of connection with him. As we learn through the film, there are reasons for why Bush has become a hermit, mainly through the interactions of Mattie Darrow (Spacek). Well, her, and the burning house in the beginning.

The story itself it generally good, albeit not that remarkable. It’s the performances that drive it, especially the four leads. Duvall plays the old hermit remarkably well, going between this quiet intensity and an acute reluctance to open up on his past. Murray is Murray, hiding a stash of liquor in his desk and being the erstwhile salesman in his leisurely mannerisms. Lucas Black I haven’t seen before, but he handles himself well: his is the growing up role, going between preparing to someday either run his own funeral business, and also maintaining a new family in the process. It’s definitely tiring work. And Spacek is good, being both collected and angry when it comes to Felix Bush and his anxieties in life.

Not bad all around, marked by a remarkable, late career performance by Duvall.

B

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