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The Robert Duvall Project, Vol. I

I thought I should update you all on my little project.  Maybe you recall that I’m working my way through all of Robert Duvall’s movies.  It’s going pretty well, and I figured I should document my progress in some way.  So here goes:

Apocalypse Now: I’m actually STILL watching this movie.  It’s incredibly hard to swallow.  I’ve made my way through Mr. Duvall’s appearance and it is delightful, in a really sadistic way.  He plays Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, who basically obiliterates a Vietnamese village in order to surf.  He is, of course, great.  I just can’t get through the rest of the movie.  Yet.  Martin Sheen is TINY, and a bay-bay.  I can’t watch anything Martin Sheen does and NOT think of him as President Jed Bartlett, so it’s weird.  I want him to quote something in Latin, but Capt. Willard doesn’t do that.  Anyway, I think Apocalypse Now is probably a great movie, but I can’t get through it to tell.  Yet.

Tender Mercies: Sweet MOTHER.  This is a great movie.  I re-watched Tender Mercies for the project, and it is just flat-dab amazing.  It MIGHT be my favorite Robert Duvall movie thus far, other than Lonesome Dove (obviously).  Interestingly enough, Tender Mercies was written by Horton Foote, who also wrote the screenplay for Robert Duvall’s first major film, To Kill a Mockingbird (as Boo Radley).  Mr. Duvall also sings in this movie, and I just can’t deny something like that.  I give Tender Mercies an A.  It’s a great, great film with a small cast, and a beautiful story.  Redemption is always a theme in movies that Robert Duvall is in, and this is no exception.

Lonesome Dove: I re-watched Lonesome Dove, and what can you really say about this mini-series?  It’s perfect?  That will work.  Tommy Lee Jones and Mr. Duvall play off one another perfectly; they ARE Call and McCrae.  But, although I am EXTREMELY biased, it’s Mr. Duvall that makes that movie what it is.  In a recent issue of Esquire, he says: “When I finished Lonesome Dove, I said to myself, now I can retire.  I’ve done something.  Let the English play Hamlet.  I’ll play Augustus McCrae.”  And I think that sums it up.  The character is so American, so iconic, and it’s the perfect person to play the perfect role.  I can only think of a couple of other times when that has happened, and I think they are as follows:
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone
James Earl Jones as the Voice of Darth Vader
Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore
Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara
Lonesome Dove gets an A+.  It always will.

Days of Thunder: I actually JUST finished watching this one.  Not my favorite, but that’s ok.  I read that Robert Duvall did Days of Thunder because he finds Nascar fascinating.  Andy shared this quote with me: “I did the soccer movie (Kicking and Screaming) because I wanted to do a movie for children. I did Days of Thunder because I wanted to work with Tom Cruise and I think Nascar is exciting. The critics didn’t like either of them. But I did this other movie the critics didn’t like either. It was called The Godfather. I don’t listen to critics.”  That, friends, is why this guy is the shiz and the best actor in business today.  He DOES NOT CARE what anyone else thinks: he wants to make the movies he wants to make.  I give Days of Thunder a B-, mostly because I wasn’t that interested in the subject matter.  But a good performance nonetheless.

Something to Talk About: It’s a real testament to my appreciate for Mr. Duvall that I would suffer through a Julia Roberts movie.  I cannot handle her.  I do not despise her quite like Kinsley does, but she annoys me to high heaven.  In any case, I was not a fan of this movie.  Robert Duvall plays a Julia Roberts dad, and he’s kind of a jerk.  Which conflicts me, because I think it’s funny when he’s mean to Julia, but I still don’t like seeing him in that role.  I know I’m not really supposed to be commenting on his character, and I’m supposed to be talking about whether or not I liked the movie, but I can’t.  Julia Roberts ruined this one for me.  As she usually does.  I give it a C.

Sling Blade: Mr. Duvall’s got a very small, but (sort of) charming cameo as Billy Bob’s dad.  This movie gave me the creeps, but I recognize a good performance when I see one.  B+

The Apostle: WHAT CAN BE SAID?  Maybe I take back Tender Mercies as my second favorite Duvall movie.  He also directed and wrote this one, and it’s just wonderful.  Again, redemption is a main theme, and it’s heavy throughout.  I think he actually had to finance the movie himself, after tons of studios turned him down, which speaks to his tenacity.  It’s an amazing movie, great direction, great character development, AND June Carter Cash is in it.  It’s one of my most highly recommended Duvall flicks, so watch it! It gets an A+.

A Family Thing: This is an absurd movie premise, but for some strange reason, it sort of works.  Robert Duvall’s character finds out that he’s black.  No, you read that right.  He finds out that his father is a terrible person who essentially raped a black woman (who then died during childbirth), and the woman RD has always thought of as his mother is really a sainted person who still married his father and took his illegitimate child as her own.  Which was easy, because he doesn’t really look black.  At all.  You’ve seen him.  Anyway, turns out he has a brother, James Earl Jones, and he travels to meet him and try  to get to know him.  It’s really sort of a great movie.  I know.  You think I’m crazy.  Maybe I am.  Billy Bob Thorton was one of the writers, and it’s got some zingers.  One of my favorites: “Don’t know why anyone would eat unsalted butter.  Just the same as eating Vaseline.”  Also: “Being happy is only having something to look forward to.”  It gets an A-, for ridiculous premise.  But really, sort of good.

Open Range: I have a love/hate relationship with Kevin Costner.  This movie moved into a little more into the hate, then back into the nuetral, then a little bit into the love.  I really liked this one.  Michael Gambon plays the villian in this one, and at the final gun battle, all I could see was Dumbledore emerging from Gambon’s subconscious and using his Patronus or something.  A little bit of IMDB trivia also put Mr. Costner in the black for me: he was originally set to be top-billed for this movie, but asked the studio to top-bill Mr. Duvall instead.  That’s classy.  And universe correcting.  Probably the best moment in this movie for me comes toward the end, just as the final gun battle is starting.  One impertinent lawless townie is sidling up to Costner’s character, and Kevin says:
“Are you the one who killed my friend?”
“That’s right.  I shot him.  And I enjoyed it too.”
Kevin Costner doesn’t hesitate; he just shoots the impertinent lawless townie in the forehead, point blank.  It’s just divine, clean-cut Western justice.  There’s also a funny little scene at the end where Charley (Costner) asks Boss (Duvall) what his real name is.  The answer is so bizarre I wouldn’t dare ruin it, but it’s just a nice little slice of comedy that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Open Range gets an A.  Highly recommended.

Crazy Heart: I would watch Jeff Bridges cut up cheese, to be real frank with you.  Even though Mr. Duvall has a small part, he just runs with it.  It’s just wonderful.  The only part of this movie I could not handle is Maggie Gyllenhaal.  No, thank you.  She’s an indie Julia Roberts, and I’m not buying it.  But Jeff Bridges is just unreal.  His singing is great, and his acting is relaxed and completely natural.  I really liked this one, but Ms. Gyllenhaal is in it a little too much, so it gets a B+.

That caps off my current progress.  Here are all the RD movies I’ve watched so far:
To Kill a Mockingbird (A)
The Godfather (A+)
The Godfather II (A++)
Apocalypse Now (A-)
Tender Mercies (A+)
The Natural (A)
Lonesome Dove (only the definitive movie of our time)
Days of Thunder (B-)
A Family Thing (A-)
Something to Talk About (kill me)
The Apostle (A+)
Sling Blade (A)
Open Range (A)
Four Christmases (Mr. Duvall is the BEST part of this movie.  That’s the truth.)
Crazy Heart (A)

Here are the ones that I’ve watched, but feel I need to watch again for the Project:
True Grit
The Network
John Q

And here is what I’ve still got left to watch:
Captain Newman, MD (with Tony Curtis and Gregory Peck!)
The Chase
The Detective
(with Old Blue Eyes)
Bullitt
MASH
Lawman
THX 1138
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid
Tomorrow
(which looks really good, very excited about this one)
Joe Kidd (with Clint Eastwood)
Lady Ice
The Conversation (with FF Coppolla and John Cazale!)
Breakout
Killer Elite
The Seven Percent Solution
(a Sherlock Holmes movie…)
The Eagle Has Landed
The Greatest: Muhummad Ali
The Betsy
(with Laurence Olivier.  It was after this movie that Robert Duvall famously stated that he didn’t mean anything by it, but he was “better than Olivier.”)
The Great Santini
True Confessions
(with DeNiro!)
The Stone Boy
The Lightship
Belizaire the Cajun
Tango, Our Dance
(really interested in this one.  It’s not available on Netflix, so I’m trying to find it elsewhere.)
Colors
A Show of Force
The Handmaid’s Tale
Convicts
(Another Horton Foote movie)
Ramblin’ Rose
Hearts of Darkness
Falling Down
Geronimo: An American Legend
The Paper
Scarlett Letter
(with Gary Oldman!)
The Road
Get Low
(really stoked about this one)
We Own the Night
Broken Trail
Lucky You
Thank You for Smoking
Kicking and Screaming
Secondhand Lions
Gods and Generals
Assassination Tango
A Shot at Glory
Gone in 60 Seconds
The 6th Day
Deep Impact
The Gingerbread Man
A Civil Action
Phenomenon

So I’ve got some work to do.  The goal for 2011 is to finish the Project.  Let’s do this.

5 Responses to The Robert Duvall Project, Vol. I

  1. We LOVE RD! Lonesome Dove is my husband’s favorite movie of all time, and I used to watch it all the time as a kid. Great reviews. You’ve given us some ideas of movies to watch over the holidays!

  2. Loved your assessments. A couple of things:
    1. I really loved A Family Thing. Really loved it.
    2. Have you heard Duvall’s song on the Crazy Heart soundtrack? It’s a pleasant bonus, kinda like the Jack Nicholson song on the Something’s Gotta Give soundtrack. Except he has a better singing voice than Jack.
    3. I’m interested to hear what you think of The Paper. I watched that movie back in high school when I took it upon myself to watch every Michael Keaton movie to date. It’s…well…you just tell me when you’ve watched it…

  3. Elizabeth

    I have never paid attention to Robert Duvall, but reading about your project definitely makes me want to see some of his movies. Looking forward to reading more on this! :)

  4. I wish they had more good movies like Lonesome Dove, with alot of those actor’s there all good especially Robert Duvall, lov ya Robert keep up the good work I can’t wait to watch “Utopia.”

  5. Robin

    Just finished another Lonesome Dove marathon (for the 25th time) My favorite movie. I want in to live in a world with Captain Call and Agustus McCrae… and marry Gus.

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