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Top 6 Lists-Robert Duvall (Under the Radar Performances)

List by-Jarrett Leahy

58 years in the business, 141 acting credits, there may be no finer American actor than Robert Duvall. With a resume that contains the likes of To Kill A Mockingbird, Bullitt, True Grit, M.A.S.H., The Godfather Part I & II, Network, Apocalypse Now, The Natural, and Lonesome Dove, there are bound to be a handful of great performances that for one reason or another have slipped through the cracks over the years. This list is dedicated to six of those great forgotten Duvall classics.

robert duvall

6. Tomorrow (1972) A Horton Foote script of a Faulkner story, Tomorrow is a black & white, minimalist story of a simple farmer who agrees to look after a pregnant woman who has been abandoned. Duvall’s backwoods performance had to have been one of the inspirations for Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade character. Long since Out Of Print, copies of this forgotten drama are being sold on Amazon for $100 or more. Netflix is probably your best bet to see this poster-boy for the phrase hidden gem.

5. The Apostle (1997) After 40 years of acting, The Apostle became Robert Duvall’s first directorial effort. Duvall, who also wrote the screenplay, plays a preacher who attempts to start a new life after his world is turned upside down by infidelity. This story of sin and redemption was highly praised during its initial release, but since has fallen off the radar. Commanding every scene he’s in, Duvall gives a powerful performance, which landed him an Oscar nomination of Best Actor.

4. THX-1138 (1971) Set in the 25th century, this dystopian sci-fi is best known for being Star Wars director George Lucas’ first feature film. Duvall’s character THX wants to escape the oppressive underground society he inhabits after he begins to question the constant government surveillance, faceless law enforcing androids, and emotion suppressing drugs. Made on a shoestring budget, the sterile, stark white cinematography of THX-1138 helps the film still feel futuristic and frighteningly claustrophobic

3. True Confessions (1981) It is hard to imagine a film starring Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro during their prime ever being considered under the radar or forgotten, but that seems to be the case with True Confessions. A story set around the now infamous Black Dahlia murder mystery, Duvall plays Tom Spellacy, a jaded police detective who is put in charge of investigating the grisly murder of a prostitute. Issues arise when the investigation may implicate associates of Tom’s brother, Father Des Spellacy (De Niro), an ambitious and enterprising monsignor on the rise in the Catholic church. Told in flashback style, Owen Roizman’s cinematography gives the picture almost a dreamlike feel at times. Some have expressed issues with the film’s ending, but simply I love seeing these two giants of their profession on screen together.

2. Get Low (2010) Set in the rural 1930’s Tennessee mountains, Duvall plays Felix Bush, a cantankerous hermit who suddenly decides he wants to have a giant funeral party, while he is still alive. Fellow acting legends Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek bring pitch perfect supporting performances, adding dry humor and understated elegance respectively. The reasons for this “living funeral” are at first a bit murky, but as this heartfelt and humorous drama slowly unravels its long since hidden secrets, what emerges is a strikingly poignant and rewarding rustic tale about loss and forgiveness.

1. Tender Mercies (1983) Before there was Crazy Heart and Jeff Bridges’ near perfect Oscar winning performance, there was Robert Duvall and Tender Mercies. Unfortunately, this moving drama was criminally ignored by its studio, who, not knowing how to sell the film to the public would later sell the TV rights only months after its initial theater release in an attempt to recoup some of their investment. However, to their complete surprise, The Academy saw the greatness in this little film and nominated it for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture, rescuing it from a doomed future of complete obscurity. It would eventually go on to win two Oscars, one for Original Screenplay and a second for the Best Actor performance from Robert Duvall, who also sang all the songs he performed in the film. Duvall plays Mac Sledge, a washed up, alcoholic country singer who hits rock bottom in a motel in the middle of nowhere Texas. With the help of a widowed single mother, Mac attempts to sober up and to turn his life around. In a decade full of stylishly over-the-top popcorn sellers, Tender Mercies is a surprisingly low key, beautiful breath of fresh air and well worth seeking out.-JL

Be sure to visit the Poll Questions page to vote for your favorite Robert Duvall performance.  And feel free to vote in any of the other fun movie polls posted.

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