What You Thought You Always Knew
1: That Robert Duvall is a great actor
2: That he won an Oscar for his performance in ‘Tender Mercies’
3: That, despite the fact that you loved him in films as various as ‘The Godfather’, ‘The Apostle’, and ‘Wrestling Ernest Hemingway’; that you have never been let down by a Robert Duvall movie (he even lifts ‘Deep Impact’ beyond cheesy melodrama with one of the most emotionally resonant final scenes a character has ever had in an American film); that just looking at the man’s face grants you access to the secrets of the human heart; but for some reason you think this magic doesn’t apply to ‘Tender Mercies’ because its title makes it sound like something you wouldn’t want to see, and because he wears a cowboy hat on the poster, which for some unfathomable reason has also factored into your self-justification for not seeing it.
4: That, one day, you’d ‘get around to it’, but not until after you have seen everything else you want to see.
You find yourself Robert McKee’s Story Seminar (something you assumed you’d always get around to as well; but were unprepared for just how good it was), and he harps on about how ‘Tender Mercies’ is one of the best scripts ever filmed, and even though McKee is so concerned to convey this assertion that he tells you the whole story arc including giving away every possible spoiler, you decide that the first thing you need to do after the seminar is to watch it.
And you spend your Monday morning watching ‘Tender Mercies’, which does indeed turn out to be one of the most elegant, wise, discreet, and emotionally resonant stories told in Hollywood cinema; a story about something you don’t exactly consider the most stimulating topic imaginable – country music, alcoholism, family and how they intersect – but turns out to be utterly gripping; a small story about a broken man trying to fix himself that eventually ends up looking like the story of the whole world; a film in which Ellen Barkin appears so beautiful she’d make you want to redefine the concept of screen beauty; in which Tess Harper gives the protagonist the most generous space to work with; and, yes, a film that leaves you wondering why you never found the time to see one of your favourite actors give one of his best performances.
This movie makes you want to love all the people you’ve neglected; touches the grief you have over your own regrets; and write a sentimental blog post. And watch it again.