Robert Duvall’s (D) first movie was not the first movie I saw him in. Being born in the 80s, naturally I was introduced to the elder D, in my case, 60 years old and swinging for Tom Cruise’s Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder (1990). The character he played in his first movie is famous. People know the name, maybe before they know the book title, most likely before they know the author. In reverse order the facts are: Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Boo Radley. The beauty of my experience in seeing the film — in my tenth grade English class — is how ingrained the elder D was in my mind when I finally met the character that captivates a pair of youngsters in 1930s Alabama, but isn’t pictured in the movie until the final act. The actor is thirty one, playing the recluse Boo with seemless skill–just as afraid of the little children as they are of him, timid, soft spoken.
D worked for many years in television and for another eight years after he played Boo. After 1969’s True Grit, he doesn’t step foot into TV until it comes time to play Communists (Stalin; 1992) and Nazis (The Man Who Captured Eichmann; 1996); you have to be well loved to get away with that. D sees gold for the first time with a nomination for his supporting role in The Godfather. Next, for uttering the line “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” (Apocalypse Now).
He won his first and only Academy Award, to date, for his lead role in 1983`s Tender Mercies. As evident from last year’s winner in the same category (Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart), the Academy favours country crooners, and D‘s Mac Sledge was no exception (see also Sissy Spacek, Reese Witherspoon). D is an American treasure, to put it simply. He’s played lawyers, astronauts, ministers, puritans, soldiers, coaches, cigarette magnates, news men—everyman! This your definition of a hardworking actor’s actor, making movies nearly every year of his life since he hit the big time.
This year, D is starring in Get Low. I have heard the story once before, in the surprisingly lol-worthy Weatherman, starring Nicholas Cage and Michael Caine as D‘s analog. D is a Southern gentleman in want of a living funeral, and Bill Murray is just the man to give it to him. The town say their words about D, revealing a mystery involving the town widow (Sissy Spacek). This must be set in small-town 1930s Tennessee, because, sadly, nobody knows their town widow anymore.
D looks good to make the shortlist for this year’s Academy Award for Best Actor, though E candidate Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and F candidate and favourite Colin Firth (The King`s Speech) are tough competition. The former will likely receive a nomination, but only that–an acknowledgement to an emergent actor who has a little more to prove on the world stage. Firth is the middle child in this scenario; with a relatively quiet but seasoned career and a recent Best Actor nomination for A Single Man, Firth is primed to be Oscar’s pick.
D is getting ‘up there’ at 79, but isn’t in Gloria Stuart territory yet. Every movie he makes in the next few years has the potential for being a concluding, career-defining film. Although D has already picked up a Hollywood Award for his role this year, the Academy will likely welcome a newcomer to the stage. Next up, D stars as another classic literary figure, the legendary Don Quixote, in Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.