You will believe a cultivated, refined man is a brutish lout, a backwoods recluse prone to bursts of anger and unprovoked, violent assaults. Robert Duvall gives a finely-modulated performance as Felix Bush in Aaron Schneider's Get Low, which opens on Friday in limited engagements, and it's among his finest roles. And considering we're talking about an actor who's been nominated for six Academy Awards (winning once, for Tender Mercies) and has left an indelible footprint upon cinema for the past 40 years, what's most impressive is that he can still find ways to surprise, delight, and move audiences who may think they've seen every trick in his pocket.
With Duvall, though, it's never been tricks or tics. The old joke in Hollywood is that all you need is sincerity; once you can fake that, you've got it made. Duvall brings an in-born sense of integrity, rather than forced sincerity, to every character he plays. It may sound like a game of semantics, but Duvall manages to be exude honesty even when he's lying to your face. He believes what he's saying, even if he's fooling himself.
Duvall's career began in the 60s, and he brought Harper Lee's Boo Radley to haunted life in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1963. He stayed busy throughout that decade, but as a child of the 70s, I first got to know him through his portrayals of three powerful, strikingly diverse characters: Mob attorney Tom Hagen in The Godfather, television executive Frank Hackett in Network, and 'morning smell of napalm' loving Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. Yet none of those is his greatest role.