No matter how many wily old Southern coots and rascals Robert Duvall has played, he always finds a way to play another one and make him a fresh, unique presence. In Get Low, a backwoods period piece that suggests a William Faulkner short story that's been put through the Sundance screenwriting lab (its ''authenticity'' comes with a bad case of the cutes), Duvall plays a grizzly old hermit named Felix Bush who decides, for reasons that are not revealed, to throw himself a ''funeral party'' while he's still alive.
Duvall makes Felix a gruffly soft-spoken eccentric with a lethal mystique. We can't tell if he's demonic or romantic, or both. As fearsome a recluse as Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird, whom Duvall portrayed nearly 50 years ago, Felix hires a wayward funeral parlor (led by Bill Murray, gently cracking wise) and invites everyone from the surrounding counties to come to his farewell-to-life party and tell their stories about him. Really, though, what he wants to do is tell his own story to reveal, in a grand confession, the key to his mystery. When that moment arrives, Duvall's acting turns magical: scary, touching, and full of grace. But Get Low, as directed by Aaron Schneider, forces you to sit through a lot of poky setup to reach that touching epiphany. B-