Felix Bush (Duvall), a crotchety hermit living outside of a Depression-era town and feared by its inhabitants, enlists the help of fast-talking undertaker Frank Quinn (Murray) to hold a “living funeral,” inviting everyone who has a story to tell about the old man. However, as the event draws nearer, it comes to light that Bush isn’t as interested in hearing the stories of the townspeople, but in revealing the truth behind why he’s been ostracized all these years. A slow, subtle but wonderfully told story.
I could honestly stop my recommendation at “Robert Duvall and Bill Murray are in it” and feel justified, but then I’d be slacking. Duvall breathes a lot of life into Felix, giving him a wryness and a twinkle beneath the bushy beard and gruff demeanor. Murray’s smooth and lightly conniving Frank is wholly enjoyable and adds a nice bit of levity. However, the real treat is watching the two bounce off of each other, many times to Murray/Frank’s detriment (“He can be very articulate when he wants to,” Frank drawls after a particularly trying encounter). The rest of the cast performs admirably, especially Lucas Black as Murray’s fresh-faced assistant, Sissy Spacek as a quiet but conflicted ex-lover and Bill Cobb as a proud but sympathetic preacher. Schneider does a good job of keeping the pace slow and deliberate without losing interest, and telling a moving story of heartbreak and redemption without devolving into schmaltz. Kaczmarek’s bluegrass-flavored score deftly sets the mood, and the film is beautifully shot in the backwoods of Georgia. A well-made character piece that is well worth the time.