The film is about Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a crusty old hermit who lives in the backwoods of Tennessee. After receiving news of an old friend dying, Bush decides to plan his own funeral, but with a twist: he wants to be alive to see it. He goes to a local mortician (Bill Murray) who's business is running dry, and together with his assistant (Lucas Black) they plan for his funeral "party." Bush wants everyone with a story about him to come, and he plans to reveal his own story at the event, telling a secret that he has long kept.
Its an entertaining set-up to a very by-the-numbers story. There's nothing in here that hasn't been done before (and probably better), and the big reveal is obvious within the first third of the film. Director Aaron Schneider doesn't bring anything new to the film either, but he's more than adequate, and the loving shots of the north Georgia countryside are gorgeous rustic visions. He also shows a true talent for getting great performances, especially for a first film.
As predictable as it is, though, the ending doesn't pack any less of an emotional wallop. Credit Duvall for that. His performance as Bush is testimony to his considerable talent, and he's no less of a marvel than ever here. He makes Bush deeply human, and you can see the turmoil and hurt in every glance. His conveys more hurt in every look than many actors can in an entire film, and he is certainly deserving of all of the awards talk he's been receiving for the film.
That's not to say the rest of the performances aren't excellent too. Sissy Spacek is as lovely as ever as a former flame of Bush's; she gives an elegantly restrained performance. Black does well enough, though he doesn't get too much opportunities to shine. And Lee Cobb delivers the film's best line reading ("Free will ain't all its cracked up to be") as the preacher Bush wants to preside over his funeral. But its Murray who delivers the finest supporting performance: his dry deadpan breathes fresh life into the film, but his character isn't just comic relief either. He gives heart to the character, and I fully believe that come awards time, his performance should be remembered.
The film is not terribly new or exciting, but its a good film that's worth seeing for Duvall and Murray. Its good, old-fashioned drama, and sometimes, that's enough.