Robert Duvall won his only Oscar to date for playing Mac Sledge, a washed-up country singer in Tender Mercies.
Tender Mercies is an okay film that I wasn’t particularly passionate or crazy about. Honestly, there wasn’t anything wrong with it, but I just wasn’t super engaged by it either. It is very quiet, and has this rustic, dreary mood that fits the story perfectly. I guess one way of describing it would be that it’s like a good old-fashioned country song. There are emotional moments, and it’s easy to watch but I’d be lying if I said it is going to stay with me in the long run. The best picture nod is fine but I didn’t think the direction was anything out of the ordinary, except for one (sortof) suspenseful scene which made me wonder if Mac had gone off drinking in the night. The actors were great in general though.
Robert Duvall is an actor whom I haven’t seen much of, although I do think he is really talented based on the few films of his I’ve seen. He kinda reminds me of Sissy Spacek with his naturalistic style of acting and his chameleonic abilities that allows him to make his performances entirely different from one another without being too mannered.
It’s amazing how quiet this performance is – or rather, it is amazing that the Academy recognised such a quiet performance. Duvall internalizes a lot of his emotions but he manages to create many layers and in turn make Mac Sledge a real and sympathetic human being. He rarely goes over-the-top except for a couple of scenes where he raises his voice by just a little, but he manages to convey a wide range of emotions and conflicts. I especially liked how he shows Mac’s desire to return to singing and composing despite his claims that he has already retired. I could always sense Mac’s disappointment and frustration when he’s told that he has “lost it”. Mac also has a somewhat rocky past with his ex-wife and daughter, and you could always sense his sadness and desire to reconnect with his daughter. Duvall does a lot of subtle acting here with his eyes and voice, and miraculously it works.
His chemistry with Tess Harper’s Rosa Lee is also surprisingly great, despite them marrying only at the 13 minutes mark. They have a very quiet but sweet relationship and it is always clear that they are each other’s emotional support. His final monologue to Rosa about the unpredictability of life and why he doesn’t place too much trust in happiness is especially amazing – his lines (imo) are pretty dramatic but he plays it in a low-key manner that is rich with weariness, resignation and yet also a forward-looking optimism.
Robert Duvall’s performance here is a brilliant case of subtle acting that I wish the Academy would recognise more. I think its strength lies in how there is never a false note and how he lets his eyes and voice do the acting, creating a moving performance. 4.5/5.
p.s. I’m going to start exploring weirder films for future posts. Looking into David Lynch,