Synopsis: A broken-down, middle-aged country singer gets a new wife, reaches out to his long-lost daughter, and tries to put his troubled life back together.
Stars: Robert Duvall, Tess Harper, Ellen Barkin, Betty Buckley, Allan Hubbard
Director: Bruce Beresford
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Duvall won a much deserved Best Actor Oscar for this sparse and moving character study penned by Horton Foote (who also won an Oscar) and directed by Australian Beresford (Crimes of the Heart, Driving Miss Daisy). Duvall plays a washed-up country singer that just sorta turns up one day in a run-down motel owned by a widow (Harper) and her son (Hubbard). Working in exchange for a place to stay, he soon becomes involved with the two before his past as a famous but boozy country western singer eventually catches up with him.
The Texas desert isn’t that far of a stretch from the Australian Outback and Beresford capitalizes on the stark scenery to make the focus on the characters and the choices they’ve made. The performances are top notch with Duvall the embodiment of quiet understatement which works nicely with Harper’s kind but guarded woman. Buckley is nicely icy as Duvall’s ex-wife, a country star in her own right who belts out the Oscar nominated “Over You” and Barkin follows up a memorable debut in Diner with a brief role as Duvall’s estranged daughter.
The tears in this film come from the gauntlet Foote asks Duvall to travel through as he goes about repairing his past misdeeds and healing old wounds. Many of these situations are hard to correct and watching Duvall try his best to be his best makes for more than a few lump-in-your-throat scenes. Tender Mercies was a small film that struck a nerve with audiences and critics, allowing for good word-of-mouth to drive business. The film represents some career-high work for all involved and is a lasting testament to the power of good filmmaking with a deep emotional well.