' ' Cinema Romantico: Tender Mercies

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tender Mercies

In the wake of "Crazy Heart", I netflixed 1983's "Tender Mercies", a film which won Robert Duvall the Best Actor Oscar for playing a broken down, ex country singer named Mac Sledge because I had never seen it and because, well, it just seemed like the right movie to watch in the wake of "Crazy Heart". Similar territory was being mined. The film also won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The recipient was one Horton Foote. (Great name.) And, man, I can see why. I can also see why screenplays like this don't exist much anymore. If you put this screenplay on the desk of a big studio exec in this day & age it would get whipped right back in your face along with the big studio exec's Red Bull while he shouted "Nothing happens!"

The film opens at a tiny, out of the way motel off a dirt road in the heart of Texas. Mac is staying there with a friend. A fight erupts over a bottle of booze. The friend wins when Mac passes out. The next morning the friend is gone. Mac is left behind except he has no money to settle the bill. He asks the owner, Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), if he can work off his debt. She agrees. When that's done Mac asks if he can stay on as an employee. She agrees again. Only a few scenes later Mac asks if she might be interested in marrying him. She says she would consider it. The next scene is Rosa Lee's son, Sonny, at school being confronted by a few bullies about his new stepfather.

Let's examine all this closer, shall we? First off, the economy. My heavens, the economoy. So much happens and yet! so little happens. All of this is painted with the swiftest of strokes. Nothing is wasted. Get us where we need to go. Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Consider the marriage proposal. Once the marriage proposal has essentially been made there is no use in dwelling on it any further because we already understand this has come to pass. A movie today? Nuh uh. It would never work this way. The audience might get "confused". You'd see the actual proposal and then you'd see the wedding sequence and the wedding reception sequence and all that crap. But "Tender Mercies" trims every ounce of fat. It's breathtaking to behold. It makes you realize how much superfluous mumbo jumbo we have to deal with nowadays.

Eventually we learn that Mac was once a great and rather famous country and western singer. Okay, okay, we get a good chunk of this info via the news reporter (Paul Gleason! Yes, "The Breakfast Club" Principal! In a tiny role!) who shows up at the motel to pester Mac and I was the same guy whining about this device in his "Crazy Heart" review. If I had a moment of ire with the script it was probably this one. Even so, it is handled with significantly more grace than it was "Crazy Heart".

One, it is entirely believable that a singer of such renown once upon a time would be a target of this sort of reporter once his whereabouts are discovered. Two, while the reporter tosses out a lot of questions Mac resists any answering of them and so the information the audience is getting cannot truly be confirmed. It pulls us in. By asking the questions we are set up to desire the answers.

More and more secrets and bits of backstory will be revealed as the film progresses and it always done casually and at the right moment - the moment when the revelation would and should be made by the character making it.

And the end? (Kind Of Spoiler Alert! Though, come on, this movie has been on video for over 25 years.) After a certain tragedy I will not reveal Duvall gives this speech to his wife that is absolutely amazing asking that old question: "Why? Why did this happen?" Once it ended I was fully prepared for some sort of symbolic sequence, probably visual, that would answer the question and tell us, "This is why. See? Everything does have a reason! Yay! Life is all snow cones and unicorns!"

Except I was wrong. We get another monologue, this one between Rosa Lee and her son in regards to her first husband that was killed in Vietnam which answers the question and not in the way we 00's moviegoers are conditioned to expect.

I liked this movie a great deal. If you ever get exhausted with the overly plotted, in-your-face films of today, give it a look.

1 comment:

Castor said...

@ Nicholas: I just nominated your blog for the Kreativ Blogger Award ;) Congrats!