Tender Mercies by Horton Foote
10 out of 10
Tender Mercies may be the perfect example of a cinematic masterpiece that is simple, conservative, does not have car chases – although there are a couple of tragic accidents – and anything that keep the franchises of the Avengers, Transformers, X Men and so many others going for ever.
By a strange coincidence – albeit if we make the effort to see great films and avoid the mass market Avengers and Fast Furious one to twenty five, we are likely to see films by the same geniuses – this viewer has just seen on Cinemax Breaker Morant and after two days there comes another spectacular feature helmed by the same outstanding director: Bruce Beresford.
Tender Mercies has won two Oscars and Horton Foote, who has written the screenplay for To Kill a Mocking Bird, has won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Written Directly for the Screen.
It is included on the New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list:
Robert Duvall has the main role, for which he won a very well deserved Academy Award – one of the seven he was nominated for, this being the artist that has had some of the best performances ever in iconic films like The Godfather – if not the best, then one of the five best ever made – Apocalypse Now, the Apostle and sometimes lesser films like The Judge.
This wonderful performer has won four Golden Globes, Emmy, BAFTA and another 56 prestigious prizes.
The iconic master talks in videos you can find on YouTube about the experience of working with various other legends, Marlon Brando and the manner in which the filmmakers had to write his lines on the walls, the ceiling and sometimes the other members of the cast because the titan would not learn his part by heart, at least from one stage in his career on.
Robert Duvall is Mac Sledge, the main character that in the opening scenes seems to be a drunkard – well, he is for a good part of his life – and the public is thinking that this might be a personage that will teach us lessons along the lines of what not to do with our lives.
Destitute as he is, broke and without perspectives, he walks to the gas station nearby and asks the owner, Rosa Lee played with grace, skill and charm by Tess Harper, to give him a job.
Rosa Lee is a widower, her husband has died as a very young man – they had married when she was just sixteen – in the Vietnam War, although she does not know how, for when she asked, she was told that they just found his cadaver in a zone where three battles where ongoing, he might have died in one of those or he could have been shot by a sniper while walking.
She has a son, Sonny, who seems to be about six, who would get along well with Mac Sledge, although the relationship of the man with his only daughter is not as good, indeed, he had not seen her in seven years and she is now a beautiful, grown up woman who will try to re-establish their natural connection.
We learn that the character that seemed to be just an alcoholic was once a star of country music, admired by many people – once in a while he is stopped and with humor, one fan asks if he really “was” Mac Sledge – to the fury of his former wife, Dixie, who upon being told that he was the greatest, she throws whiskey in the face of the one who had said that – just to spite her, she claims.
Dixie still sings and is very appreciated as a country musician, but the marriage has ended up in acrimony – when Sue Anne, their daughter played by the formidable Ellen Barkin, asks if it is true that her father had once tried to kill her mother, Mac admits it is true, for when drunk, which he was so often, he lost his senses.
Mac Sledge and Rosa Lee become very attached and their love leads to matrimony, with the former alcoholic gradually getting rid of his awful addiction and eventually writing again songs, one of which he brings to his ex-spouse that rejects it as lousy and so does Harry, her manager – only to regret it later.
Sue Anne comes to her estranged father’s new home one day and the reunion is touching, albeit without any spoiler alerts let us just say the new found warmth does not last for long.
Meanwhile, a band of amateur country musicians – in the sense that they have regular jobs to be able to put food on the table – comes to pay their respects to the legendary Sledge and they love his new composition, play it and this attracts the interest of a record company.
The former great singer is not sure he wants to try a comeback – perhaps because his former fame was associated with a dissolution, the violence of his fights with his former partner – we learn that he had had another, first wife when he was just seventeen – and he does not want to repeat that – for he has found bliss and happiness, he is baptized in the local church.
The title of this fabulous motion picture probably refers to the Tender Mercies as provided by the Lord – obviously, for those who believe in him, which is not the case for this viewer, but Rosa Lee uses the term in connection with the church, where she sings in the choir.