by NIR SHALEV
Robert Duvall looks great in a beard; in this film the beard is long, scruffy, and looks worn just like him. And even though the presence of old age is remarkably visible on his face and may entirely be Hollywood makeup, the personification of his character’s demeanor is a terrific and natural performance all its own; the beard is simply there for aesthetic purposes.
Duvall plays Felix Bush, a hermit that’d been living in seclusion for over 40 years; it was his decision and the film never forgets that. One day, Felix approaches funeral home owner Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and his young associate Buddy (Lucas Black) and pays them to stage a “funeral party” for him while he’s still alive. He also wants to invite every person that has anything bad to say about him to the party so that he could hear all of the terrible tales that were concocted about him throughout the previous four decades. It’s not an easy task but Frank and Buddy get to work clothing Felix for the funeral, providing him with a much needed haircut, and assisting Felix with the raffle that he’d announced over the radio claiming that every ticket that’s purchased for $5 would go towards a single winner that would inherit his entire land and hand-built cabin.
The premise sounds like this would be a fun little film but it’s more than that. For starters, it’s based on a true story. A real hermit with a slightly different name did actually have a “living” funeral for himself but here, Hollywood steps in with a background for Felix that is dark but deals in the reliable plot device of seeking redemption. Felix was a caring, God-fearing person before a catastrophe had struck his life 40-plus years back and had forced him into becoming a self-proclaimed hermit, and real human emotions take over the overall arc of the film, instead of tomfoolery and slapstick possibilities. This film is a comedy but is sprinkled with melancholia, tragedy, and the aspect of redeeming oneself before anyone that would care or listen.
Now, the real stars of the film are Duvall’s terrific and grossly overlooked performance and the film’s director of photography. The decade of the 1930s is captured with a great eye for detail, care, and lots of beautiful shots of nature and classic film compositions; interiors are lit beautifully. The film’s speed is a slow and calm one but there’s plenty of spirit to it.
The DVD and Blu-ray come with three behind the scenes featurettes, one explaining the origin of the character of Felix Bush and another about the recreation of the period of the 1930s, a cast and crew Q&A, red carpet footage, and a director and cast commentary.
Other new releases this week: Due Date, Fish Tank, Megamind, Mesrine: Killer Instinct