Who's In It: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs
The Basics: It's the olden times and Robert Duvall is a mean old coot who lives hermit-style on the edges of a rural town. He's got a mule, a shotgun, a shack and an old photo on his wall of a woman from his past. He's also got his branding down tight because the stories everyone in town concocts to justify their hatred and fear of him are as murky and spooky as any fake urban legend could be. He's the boogeyman and he likes it that way. And then one day he decides to throw his own funeral and raffle off his land, enlisting a bemused funeral director (Bill Murray) and his upright assistant (Lucas Black) to organize and promote it. The results are... odd.
What's The Deal: Robert Duvall is 79 now and still hits it out of the park every time. The ensemble is great, especially Murray and Sissy Spacek as an old friend/girlfriend(?) who knows the truth about him and about that photo on the wall; but it's Duvall you go to this little movie to watch. Unlike the sad majority of actors over 50 or 60 or 70, he hasn't given in to the lie that to be viable in Hollywood means to act like you're forever 21 and do whatever it takes to look that way, too. We need old actors to play old people and to do it like it's a human condition instead of a punishment invented by the Saw killer, and he always steps up for it. Here he's grumpy and ragged and moving and, best of all, unpredictable even when the script starts turning irritatingly in that direction.
What It Doesn't Need: Well, besides a theatrical release that saw it buried in mid-summer when it pretty much shouts "autumn award consideration movie," this one could have turned down the volume of its final 20 minutes. That's where all the showy displays of redemption, overt feelings and cathartic memories start crashing all over the place. You can feel the movie going there and you sit there hoping it won't. And then it does anyway. But it's so good and low-key up to that point you find yourself forgiving it for tripping over itself like that.
Based On: A real-life guy who did held a similar throw-your-own-funeral-party in Tennessee in the early part of the last century. He went by the alias of Felix Bush, which is Duvall's character's name here. It's kind of a cool idea if you think about it. Like if you know it's coming you could just gather up all your friends and give them your stuff and then take up a collection for your actual funeral expenses. Everybody gets something. Like a death-themed potluck.
Where You've Seen Lucas Black, Besides The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift: He was the kid in Sling Blade, now all grown up.
See Also: The Apostle, the movie Robert Duvall wrote and directed about an intense, obsessive southern preacher torn between devotion to Jesus and a serious appetite for all that awesome drunken sex and sin. It stays focused on his need and never lets up, and it's one of the most realistic movies about religious faith you'll ever see.