Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Tender Mercies


I’d forgotten how good this was. One of the better original screenplays ever written, by Horton Foote, who adapted To Kill a Mockingbird. Robert Duvall deserved his Oscar. He did his own singing—and he’s pretty good at it!—and wrote two of the songs. This is a Texas movie. Most of the people in it are not talkative, but they make every word count, and so does the writer and director, Bruce Beresford, an Aussie, if you can believe that. It’s only 85 minutes long, and so every scene counts, too. At one point Duvall and Tess Harper (who is also very good in an underrated performance) are considering marriage. Next thing you know, they’re married, and it’s okay, we didn’t need that scene. Much more effective is seeing Duvall baptized, full immersion, in a church just like the one my granddaddy attended. Duvall plays a musician whose success was ruined by his alcoholism. He kept on writing songs, and now he’s thinking about a comeback, but he’s frightened of it, too. At the end we should see him either fall off the wagon, or make it big … in a conventional movie. This movie doesn’t fall into that trap. We’re left to wonder, and to root for him. This was Ellen Barkin’s second major role, after Diner, and she’s good, though miscast as an 18-year-old. She was actually 29.