Tender Mercies (1983)
Director: Bruce Beresford
Plot: Out-of-luck country singer seeks redemption through love.
Excerpts from our roundtable discussion:
LEAGUE: I thought it was beautiful and spartan. You understand so much of the characters with so few syllables, which is also a very Texan trait. You know, you compare that to Crazy Heart—good Lord, there is no comparison.
RAMÍREZ BERG: Yeah, not even close.
LEAGUE: It delves into country music. It has a very classic couple of Texas characters. It involves the barren Texas small-town landscape. Also, Robert Duvall never apologizes for obviously being a bad, drunk husband.
RAPP: And he explains it in the end: “I never trust happiness.” One of the top five scenes ever in movies. “I don’t trust happiness.”
KILLEN: I don’t know, something about country music doesn’t actually feel Texas to me. It feels Nashville. And the whole vibe in Tender Mercies is sort of “Texan for profit.”
LEAGUE: It could be a Nashville movie too.
RAPP: Well, but think about that movie, though. One of the most brilliant things about Tender Mercies is the Tess Harper character, and the movie is set in her world, which is really Texas. Country music is brought into that world by Duvall’s character, but the most-genius parts of that movie have to do with her, her ability to listen to him. Scene after scene after scene—that woman is the best listener I’ve ever seen.
BLOOM: And thirty years later she’s still listening, to Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men. I agree with you. And having grown up in a little Baptist church in that type of atmosphere, I can tell you that [director] Bruce Beresford got that so right. That little church where he is baptized. I was floored by that. I’m sure that if you’ve never been in one of those Baptist churches, it was interesting but not compelling. To me it was like, “My God! How did they get every single emotional detail of that experience all in that one little scene?” And it works virtually without dialogue. I think it’s the greatest screenplay Horton Foote ever wrote, and I’m not a Horton Foote fan. I’m like the actors in New York who say, “Well, he’s written fifty plays, but we’re still waiting for the first plot twist.” That’s his reputation, because he is what you call a “slice of life” writer. But in Tender Mercies, he just got it so perfectly right. It’s one of the few things he wrote directly for the screen. And for some reason, the Australian [Beresford] understood once again.
And now, the Alamo Drafthouse Presents . . .
The Texas Monthly Rolling Roadshow
Starting June 3, the Alamo Drafthouse and TEXAS MONTHLY will be showing all ten of these films in unique, location-specific settings all over Texas. For more information, please visit texasmonthly.com/texasfilms or drafthouse.com/texasfilms.