In Search of Respect
After waking up on the floor of a motel room, former country singer Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) finds himself with no money to pay the owner Rosa Lee (Tess Harper) and so does some odd jobs to pay his bill. Having cleared what he owes he stays on to help Rosa out who is a widow with a young son called Sonny (Allan Hubbard). As they spend time together it becomes clear that Mac is more than a little sweet on Rosa who not only marries him but helps him to deal with his alcoholism which destroyed his career and previous marriage. But with Mac getting his life back on track he finds himself facing a choice when a chance at a career resurfaces.
In a career which has covered 6 decades Robert Duvall has been nominated for seven Academy Awards but has only ever won one which was for "Tender Mercies". Amusingly this is a movie which several directors passed on, didn't get a huge release and was deemed unsuccessful on its release yet received five Academy Award nominations winning two of them. And in a way that kind of sums the movie up as the story of a washed up country singer doesn't sound great yet "Tender Mercies" is pure gold.
That gold starts with a storyline which at its heart is the redemption of Mac as a washed up country singer who has ended up living at the bottom of a whisky bottle. He finds love, a kid who grows fond of him and also understands that there are those who still respect him for who he was before he threw his career away. But of course redemption isn't easy and there are a few road humps along the way which cause Mac to struggle but also question why he is getting a second bite of a cherry with a woman who understands him. None of which is complicated but neither is it contrived and that makes "Tender Mercies" believable as it mixes feel good with bleak to create an enthralling natural drama.
Now considering the nature of "Tender Mercies", its believability it takes a very special actor to not over shadow the story and that actor is Robert Duvall. Duvall's performance is one of subtlety, one of simple expressions such as when he wakes up in the motel and looks out to see an attractive woman there, it says what mess have I got myself in and how am I going to make amends for this. And these subtle looks fill the movie, from watching his ex wife perform to a sense of self loathing he gives his character. But there is also a wonderfully sympathetic performance from Tess Harper who uses her stunning eyes to great effect to make Rosa a loving woman but also one which you sense has plenty of hidden strength to deal with what comes her way.
What this all boils down to is that "Tender Mercies" is simply one of those movies where everything clicks, from the believability of the story to the performances and also the singing with Robert Duvall showing another string to his bow as he shows a talent for country singing