Robert & Luciana Duvall – Wild Horses

March 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall (“Tender Mercies”) returns to the director’s chair after 13 years with the independent family Western “Wild Horses.” In the film, Duvall, 84, plays Scott Briggs, a Texas rancher who decides it’s time to write his will before he passes away. Ready to make amends with his estranged gay son Ben (James Franco), he invites him back to the ranch to divvy up the land. A past crime, however, comes back to haunt the Briggses when a Texas Ranger (Luciana Duvall, Robert’s real-life wife) reopens a cold case that could spell disaster for the family.

During an interview with Robert and Luciana Duvall at the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival, I got a chance to talk to the couple about their new film and what kind of director Duvall has become after more than a decade. We also talked about whether Duvall is still interested in acting after earning his seventh Oscar nomination this year for “The Judge” and learn about a movie he hopes to make into a TV miniseries very soon.

You made your last film as a director in 2002 with “Assassination Tango.” What motivated you to get back into the saddle again for “Wild Horses?”

Robert Duvall: I read a script with a lady [Texas] Ranger and I wanted to see [Luciana] play a lady ranger. I figured we could make a movie, but we had to work for about a year and a half to really make a script out of it. We kept a few things in the original script and went out and got some wonderful actors like James Franco and Josh Hartnett and Adriana Barraza.

Luciana, Robert directed you in “Assassination Tango.” Did you see any differences in his approach as a filmmaker this time around?

Luciana Duvall: No, he’s very subtle in what he looks for, but very specific at the same time. If he knows you’re in search of something, but you’re not quite there, in a very indirect way he will let you know. (Laughs)

RD: Yeah, but after 13 years, she’s harder to direct now than she was then.

LD: I think what he wants is for [actors] to be in touch with themselves no matter what. If I’m going to throw a purse or yell or walk away, that’s fine as long as you’re in touch with yourself, meaning that you’re not trying to force something. You do it and you feel it.

RD: Let the process take you to the result rather than going straight for the result.

LD: Yeah, by not having the pressure that you have to do it right or perfect, it almost becomes improvised, even if it has imperfections. In this film I was more helpful and more involved than before because I was playing a role that was very complex. I think that’s what is fascinating about working with Bob. There was this one scene and [James Franco and Josh Hartnett] didn’t have enough time to spend with each other, so when you see them off camera they weren’t connecting. James was reading and Josh was doing something else and [actor] Devon [Abner] was being…

RD: Shy.

LD: Shy. So, Bobby allowed an environment within the scene in which they became very close. I think that allowed them to improvise and to go anywhere they wanted.

RD: A guy like [Marlon] Brando used to watch “Candid Camera” to try to make [his performances] as lifelike as possible. People might say, “Oh, he’s just playing himself.” I say, “Try it.” It’s not always an easy thing. [Actor] Wilford Brimley used to say, “Well, when they say ‘action,’ you better come up with something by not trying to come up with something.”

Well, speaking of acting, you just came off your seventh Oscar nomination for your role in “The Judge.” Is that acting bug still biting?

RD: Maybe. I was supposed to do something with [director] Terry Gilliam, but it wasn’t a good script [“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”]. I don’t know if they’re going to still do it. I was going to play Don Quixote. I read that when [Larry] McMurtry wrote “Lonesome Dove,” he was very much influenced by [“Don Quixote” author] Miguel Cervantes – men saving women, horseback, you know. I don’t know if you saw this wonderful movie called “Wild Tales.”

The Argentina film? I have.

RD: The director (Damián Szifrón) and I talked. He said he was doing a Western and said he maybe wants me to be in it. He’s a very interesting guy. So, I still get a few [offers]. I also have the rights to “The Day the Cowboys Quit” by Elmer Kelton. He was voted the greatest Western writer of all time. A lot of people in Texas have never heard of him. He wrote for the Stockman’s Gazette in San Angelo. He knew the land and the air like nobody else. The only movie he ever made was with Tommy Lee Jones, “The Good Old Boys.” [“The Day the Cowboys Quit”] is a story based on fact about some cowboys that weren’t allowed by the big ranch owners from the east to have their own small herd of horses or cattle, so they went on strike. So, we’re working with AMC to try and get a two-night miniseries. It could be one of the greatest Westerns ever made if it’s done right.

So, where is the Don Quixote film at right now?

RD: I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. You daydream about certain things. Some things you plan and then something comes around the corner and surprises you and it’s better than what you planned. So, we’ll see. We’re really trying to inch forward with “The Day the Cowboys Quit” with AMC. Hopefully [screenwriter] Charlie Mitchell from “Get Low” will get it. Because of “Get Low” I got “The Judge.”

Why did you choose James and Josh to play your sons in this film?

RD: We were very fortunate. First we had Josh playing one part and then we had Franco playing the part. We had to apologize to Josh to play the other part, which he was better for anyway. Then we got [Oscar-winning screenwriter] Horton Foote’s (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Tender Mercies”) son-in-law (Devon Abner) to play the other son. Then I said I didn’t want anybody to play the Texas Rangers except the Texas Rangers. They do undercover work, so they’re actually good actors. These guys bring an authenticity, even if it’s in a small way. There’s a melding process of using actors and non-actors. It was a nice mix. Maybe you couldn’t do that with theater, like Shakespeare or a [David] Mamet play, but in film you can do a lot of things, which is nice. I saw a film [at SXSW] two years ago called “The Dynamiter.” It was a film where they just took kids off the street. It wasn’t amateur, but it was very rudimentary. Two nights later, I saw the original “Bonnie and Clyde” and I couldn’t stand it. [It was] fraudulent, compared to this little teeny movie. Just because something comes from Hollywood doesn’t mean anything.

You and Clint Eastwood are the same age. Do you ever wonder how he’s able to knock out one or two projects a year?

RD: He’s become the poor man’s version of Franco. (Laughs) Franco’s gonna do four movies this year. [Franco] can take a [script] and memorize it in 10 seconds – photographic memory. I think that’s the reason he can work fast. [Eastwood] directs a lot. He keeps going. You know who I’d like to get for “The Day the Cowboys Quit”: [Oscar-winning director] Katherine Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”). Oh, man, she’s terrific. I love “The Hurt Locker.” It’s my favorite movie of the decade. I love what she did with [“Zero Dark Thirty”], too.

Jack Reacher

January 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie  (“The Way of the Gun”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“Valkyrie”)

As the year comes to a close, the patterns at the box office are typically the same.  To capitalize on family outings at the movie theater, late December is usually reserved for broad, family-based comedies, tent-pole franchise films, and those films that are waiting to make their Oscar push. Every now and then, however, you get a film that doesn’t fit neatly into any of those categories.

Based on the popular novel “One Shot” by Lee Child, “Jack Reacher” stars Tom Cruise as the title character, an ex-Army cop investigating the deaths of five random people at the hands of a sniper. Along the way, a conspiracy unfolds as Reacher and the shooter’s defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) try to uncover the truth while determining who they can trust.

This is the kind of movie that Cruise was built for. He continues to be one of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood and it is no different here. Though his much-maligned but profoundly awesome running style is sadly absent from most of this film, Cruise displays plenty of action-star quality physicality with hand-to-hand combat. For her role, Pike plays it pretty decently, but the supporting cast gets lost behind Cruise. Other smaller roles include Werner Herzog playing a terribly unoriginal villain and Robert Duvall turning in one of the best parts of the film.

Still, “Jack Reacher” is hampered by an inconsistent tone.  While the film never quite shoots for comedy, so to speak, there are misplaced scenes and lines that act more as a confusing distraction than effective comic relief.  There is a scene, for example, where Cruise’s character fights several men in a bathroom that feels as if it belongs in a Three Stooges movie instead a first-rate action movie. The script of the film is also a weak point, with cheesy dialogue and only about half of Reacher’s one-liners truly hitting their mark. The narrative of the film, while enough to keep it chugging along, is pretty generic and very difficult to fully invested in. This is complicated by the fact that much is made of Reacher’s mysterious and nomadic background but it is never truly explored.

The film never quite takes off and ascends above typical crime thriller material.  There are plenty of car chases, scenes of violent, and plot twists, but most of the latter are done quite clumsily. What makes “Jack Reacher” successful, however, is the sheer entertainment value of an on-screen personality like Cruise. If you can last through the entire two-hour runtime, “Jack Reacher” is a decent way to waste time, but not much else.

Get Low

August 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek
Directed by: Aaron Schneider (debut)
Written by: Chris Provenzano (“Thank You, Goodnight”) and C. Gaby Mitchell (debut)

In the opening shot of “Get Low,” we see a house engulfed in so many flames it would be virtually impossible for anyone to escape a fiery death. However, when the silhouette of a male figure manages to get out of the house and run away, you know that person has a story to tell no matter how long it’ll take him to do it.

In “Get Low,” Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall (“Tender Mercies”) is in top form as Felix Bush, an elderly man living alone in Tennessee during the 30s who has kept a secret for years and has finally decided to tell anyone who’s interested in listening what he’s buried inside him before it’s time to be buried himself.

The revelation, however, will come on his terms. When Felix visits a funeral home run by Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and his young associate Buddy (Lucas Black) it’s for a specific purpose. He wants to throw a funeral party for himself and wants to invite everyone that has a story to tell about him.

To ensure a big turnout (mostly because everyone is scared of him and his reputation as “Old Man Bush”), Felix announces he will leave all his land after he dies to the winner of a raffle at the event. With business not going so well for the funeral home (“People are dying in bunches everywhere but here,” Frank says), Frank sees an opportunity to make some money and agrees to help Felix plan for his unusual get-together.

Directed by first-timer Aaron Schneider, “Get Low” is a modest Southern folktale about atonement, grief, and coming to terms with one’s own mortality. Leave it to Duvall to take a character that could have come off as a small-minded grump knocking at death’s door and bring him to life. Murray, too, is a joy to watch as he stays just above the wave of melancholy that sweeps through the tone of the entire picture.

The rustic feel and slow pace of “Get Low” might not be for everyone, but if you want to see a master like Duvall craft a fine performance it might be a good idea to hitch a ride to the countryside. It’ll definitely be an inspiring journey.

Four Christmases

November 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“The King of Kong”)
Written by: Matt Allen (debut), Caleb Wilson (debut), Jon Lucas (“Rebound”), Scott Moore (“Rebound”)

You have to feel a little sorry for director Seth Gordon. After helming 2007’s “The King of Kong,” a well-received and very entertaining documentary about a video game rivalry between two Donkey Kong world-record holders, he somehow finds himself stuck with four unproven screenwriters during his first feature, “Four Christmases.”

To make matters worse, “Four Christmases” isn’t the kind of holiday family movie a writer can really use to spread his or her wings. It’s a basic Christmas slapstick comedy where most of the characters end up on their backs in the most painful ways and someone learns a valuable lesson about the importance of family.

Unlike other crappy Christmas comedies in recent years like “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Surviving Christmas,” the only thing “Four Christmases” has going for it is likeable albeit mismatched lead characters. Vince Vaughn (who was also pretty bad in last year’s holiday horror “Fred Claus”) and Reese Witherspoon star as Brad and Kate, a couple who decides to take a vacation to Fiji instead of visiting their families for Christmas.

The weather, however, doesn’t cooperate with their plans and Brad and Kate are forced to make four separate trips to their divorced parents when they’re caught on the local news trying to make a break for it at the airport.

Each home visit brings along its own cliché family calamity. For example, at the backwoods home of Brad’s dad Howard (Robert Duvall), social statuses clash when Brad’s cage-fighting brothers Denver (Jon Faveru) and Dallas (Tim McGraw) are offended when he buys the family expensive gifts. Other parents on the list to receive a yuletide house call: Brad’s mom Paula (Sissy Spacek) and her much-younger lover, Kate’s mom Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen), who has started dating a church pastor (insert baby Jesus jokes here), and Kate’s dad Creighton (Jon Voight), who’s really the heart of the whole movie but is cut short by a thinned-out script.

Cheesy joke after cheesy joke, “Four Christmases” might not make you gag as badly as Brad does when he sees a baby puke, but you definitely won’t feel good after watching these family members butt heads under the mistletoe. Nor should director Gordon feel too terrible for squeezing as much as he possibly could from the mess he was handed. Making mansions out of matchsticks probably isn’t easy either.