Alongside works by Terrence Malick, John Cassavetes and John Huston, this breathtaking 1983 melodrama is one of the wellsprings of US indie cinema. Writer Horton Foote – most famous for scripting ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – and his star Robert Duvall shopped the screenplay to every major American director, but ended up having to settle for Aussie Bruce Beresford making his first Hollywood film.
It’s a bizarre trio – the respected playwright, the not-quite-bankable star, the Ocker sex-comedy veteran – especially when one considers that the film they came up with – all downhome reverence, stifled emotion and expressive minimalism – stands completely alone in each man’s CV (at least until Duvall co-starred in virtual remake ‘Crazy Heart’).
Duvall plays Mac Sledge – greatest character name ever? – the strung-out former country star who washes up in a remote Texas town and shacks up with the local widow. Redemption stories are ten to the dozen in Hollywood, but this one feels heartbreakingly genuine – Duvall was never better, and that’s saying something.
The look of the film is entrancing, from a series of disconcertingly flat rural landscapes to the gorgeous photography of human faces – head on, eyes wide, nothing hidden. It’s a film of quiet, relentless power which demands – and rewards – a level of belief, even faith in its characters which few other films even dare to suggest. For all its simplicity, this is bold, heartfelt filmmaking. A masterpiece.