Tender Mercies (1983) Poster

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Duvall at his Finest !!
revdrcac15 May 2006
This moving and thought-provoking film is a timeless classic of redemption and perseverance.Robert Duvall totally captures the pain, heartache, despair and ultimate survival of a once beloved entertainer.The film is an emotional tour-de-force for all the main characters, as they deal with forgiveness, doubt, loss of faith and memories of what might have been .......

The direction, screenplay, music and cinematography are all top-notch and add to the realistic feel of the film.

In a career that has seen a number of great performances, this quiet, unassuming Duvall film will leave you inspired as well as thoughtful. In this film , we see our own lives reflected in this small town saga. Maybe that is why I found the movie so deeply entertaining. It appeals to the lost dreams and missed opportunities in our own lives.
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A Good Film Carried by Robert Duvall's Oscar-Winning Performance
tfrizzell2 October 2000
"Tender Mercies" is a strong character study about a washed-up country singer (Robert Duvall, in his Oscar-winning role) who finds the will to live and makes the most of his life. After spending a drunken night at a small motel in Texas, he meets the woman (Tess Harper) who can change his life for the better. She owns the motel and after allowing Duvall to stay for a while by doing odd jobs, she marries him and he starts his transformation. Duvall still has songs to sing, but his heart is just not in it any more. His ex-wife has become a singing star, partly by using the songs that Duvall wrote himself. She has also kept their daughter away from him because she was afraid he might do something in a drunken rage. Duvall comes to terms with everything and shows that he is a changed man. He meets his now-grown daughter (Ellen Barkin) and realizes that everything that has happened has occurred for the right reason. However, tragedy will strike and Duvall will have to show how great a person he really is. "Tender Mercies" is a film that works due to quiet performances, subtle direction, and a smart screenplay. The film runs a crisp 89 minutes, but never feels rushed. Robert Duvall finally got the chance to showcase his acting ability and he does not disappoint. His performance is the greatest attribute here, but this does not mean that everything else is not impressive. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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JP-546 March 1999
This movie demonstrates what happens when the rare, magical perfect combination clicks together. Duvall, Beresford and Foote blended their talents marvelously and managed to fool the critics by producing a film that is absolutely one of the best ever. Its draw at the box office and on video may have surprised the critics, but is understood by those who place a high value on well-written and well-acted drama. I have nearly worn out my VHS copy from multiple viewings but I have never worn out the experience. The film is uplifting because it is all about unhoped hope finding fulfillment.

The movie combines tragedy and pathos with love, warmth and redemption in a manner that rarely occurs in a Hollywood production. To top it off, it does it so that there is not a phoney or contrived moment in the picture. Excellent and somewhat surprising supporting performances came from newcomer Tess Harper (discovered for this film by Duvall and Beresford) Ellen Barkin and Betty Buckley. Brimley (impossible to dislike in any role) is perfect as Buckley's manager.

One of the best scenes in the movie occurs when the young band drops over to "just say howdy" to the ex-singer. Harper is guarded and protective at first, but the pure hearts and openly embarrassed intent of the young men quickly win her and the viewer over. It is a touching and beautiful scene. It reminds you that there is still decency and humility among American youth (maybe we should all visit east Texas once in a while, although you can easily find it in most parts of rural USA).

No action flik this. The best word I know to describe Tender Mercies is "heartwarming." If you have not yet watched it, by all means do yourself a favor: beg, borrow, rent or steal a copy without delay. You'll never think of Duvall or Texas or country music the same again.
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The Great Robert Duval at his Very Best
driver_829 June 2004
Something tells me that when it is all said and done, and people are trying to come up with that definitive "greatest actor of all-time" winner, it will be Robert Duval. I know that this is a bold statement. The Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman and Henry Fonda fans (among others) will scream and protest. Sure, it is subjective, but then again, maybe it is not. Sometimes there is supporting evidence out there, maybe because of one particular role. I think Robert Duval's performance in "Tender Mercies" is the greatest performance by an actor in the history of film. It is a subdued performance, but underneath, so powerful. Duval plays a washed up Country music singer and song writer named Mac Sledge. His better days are in the past. Now, he finds his only comfort in a whiskey bottle. His ex-wife has gone on to use his songs to become a huge star. She detests him because of the way he had become in his later years with her (alcohol). She even denies him the right to see their daughter. Mac has closed himself off to the world, he does not want to become emotionally attached to anybody or anything. The only time Mac was ever happy, bad things ended up as a result. However, Mac will soon come into contact with a widow and her young son and he gets a second chance to join the living. In this film you see a Duval character different from any other he has ever played. You see the rebirth of a spirit, long suffering. The supporting roles are incredible as well. I still find this one of the most emotionally satisfying movies ever made, every time I watch it.
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The power of simplicity.
jckruize8 November 2001
To all aspiring screenwriters: this is how to do it. Horton Foote eschews all of the phony and melodramatic plot devices Hollywood is so fond of, and concentrates instead on telling his tale as truly and simply as possible. In complete synch with him are his collaborators, director Bruce Beresford and star Robert Duvall. There's not a false gesture, extraneous word of dialogue, or wasted camera move. Just people who seem real, who strive to reach out to others, who want love and want to give it, but sometimes don't know how. There are quiet, subtle moments in this movie that squeeze the heart. Don't pass this one by.
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Powerful, moving movie about redemption, restoration and hope.
vic-1666 February 2006
While some may consider the movie a little slow at times, its overall message is a powerful one. A movie about redemption, restoration and hope. Robert Duvall's portrayal of a man whose life is in need of repair is outstanding. Ranks with his character in "The Apostle", a similar tale in many ways. In my opinion, the baptismal scene is one of the movie's most moving moments. The bleak landscapes and the dust-blown scenes effectively echo the main character's state of mind for part of the film. Mac Sledge is a great character brought to life by Duvall. As Sledge gradually gets his life together thanks to the developing relationships with a young widow and her son, the mood of the movie becomes a little more positive.
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A Drama With Realism, Heart & Dignity
ccthemovieman-121 July 2007
This is a movie with a lot of "dignity." It has such realistic people, it kept me fascinated because it seemed so different from most films I've watched.

There aren't a lot of dramatic things that happen in the story yet, as a whole, it's a wonderful tale that stays with you. It's a lot more than just seeing an Oscar-winning performance by Robert Duvall as Texan and former C&W singer and writer, "Mac Sledge." It's simply good storytelling

I can't say I am a fan of Duvall's country singing, but that is the only thing I didn't like. Well, maybe "Dixie" (Betty Buckley), who played a bitter ex-wife of Duvall's in here. She was not pleasant, but others were really nice, likable people. Yet, this is not some sappy movie just because most of the people are good folks.

As in film noirs in which the viewer has a sense of dread, knowing something bad is around the corner, I felt the same thing in this film, even though it didn't necessarily happen. I mean with the main characters: Mac, Rosa Lee and Sonny. There was underlying tension, probably because of Sledge's alcoholic and violent past, that made me fear that any minute he was going to ruin the nice setup he had with a good woman and nice stepson.

Duvall, as usual, makes his role a fascinating and unpredictable one. With many of the people he has played over the years, you never am sure what his characters are going to do next. Tess Harper, as Mac's new wife, and Alan Hubbard, as her son, are two of the most realistic characters I've ever seen on film. It helped they were from the area so their accents were real.

This is a just straight drama, with a solid screenplay by Horton Foote and direction by Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy"). In addition, actors Buckley (who can sing, too), Wilford Brimley and Ellen Barkin all give memorable supporting performances.

It was an interesting tale of something I have rarely seen on film in the past 50 years: a good Christian woman lifting up a man to her level. She never had to do it verbally, never nagged or preached to the man, just set example of how to act and be a loving, supportive spouse. There is a lesson for people here with how well "Rosa Lee" handled situations. Nice.....very nice.
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Laid back movie with a surprising emotional impact
DrJoTab21 October 1998
This is a great, great film. Robert Duvall richly deserved the Oscar he won for Best Actor, and Bruce Beresford's direction is quirky but consistently entertaining.

The most wonderful aspect of this movie is how the screenwriter (Horton Foote) doesn't let the characters engage in all the obvious, "Hollywood" histrionics that the plot would allow them to do. For example: when Mack (Duvall) finally meets his long-lost daughter late in the film, he doesn't run to her and embrace her with tears staining his face while music swells beneath the scene, as a hack director would have him do. Instead, he looks at his shoes, makes small talk, and acts embarrassed. Why? Because, consistently throughout the film, he doesn't believe he deserves the good things that come his way.

This is the tale of a man who, in the absolute pit of despair and hopelessness, is saved by the love of a good woman and the love of God. You need to see it.
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the good things
Nick-33711 January 2004
I was happy to see this film once again when it aired last night on CMT. It's certainly worthy of a second look, as you take something new away from it each time. Even though this was filmed during the urban cowboy era of the early 80s, it doesn't seem dated in its subject matter. Country music fans can draw their own conclusions as to who inspired some of the characters. Robert Duvall's burnt-out drunk Mac Sledge surely borrowed from Lefty Frizzell. Mac's singing style is eerily close to Lefty's and he even performs one of his songs in the film. Betty Buckley's country queen Dixie Scott is reminiscent of Dottie West. Perhaps the writer based his story on George Jones and Tammy Wynette's bitter divorce, Jones' subsequent alcoholism and redemption, and Tammy's raising of their daughter. Whatever the case, it has a wonderful message about loss making us appreciate the good things we're given in life. The final song playing while Tess Harper watches her husband and son tossing a football says it best.
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In the spirit of John Ford
roth194920 September 2002
As spare and clean and unflinching as a John Ford movie. At times reminds me of The Searchers in its perfect marriage of style and pained stoicism, and the way the sky and fate dwarf the all-too-human interiors. Superb editing and interior design, and probably Duvall's finest performance.
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excellent acting, visually stunning
thomaswatchesfilms26 March 2004
This is a gentle, honest and straight forward depiction of the lives of several lonely people who meet, interact, and change one another in positive ways. Everyone grows and becomes more than what they were before, and when there is tribulation, they are able to rise above it with poise and gentility. The film is steady, quiet, and not overly long, but with good tension. It is very well acted. Duvall won a Best Actor Oscar here. I'm not a sentimental person, but this is really a charming, simple and beautiful film.

Whomever was responsible for the set direction of this film is a true genius. The use of color, foremost, and of depth, motion and scene blocking is as nearly perfect as any film I have ever seen. Amid a perfect background of muted greens or blues, there is always something red, drawing the eye directly to a perfect focal point, either anticipating or complimenting the action on the screen. It's simply gorgeous to look at, like an oil painting in a museum you can't quite tear yourself away from.

The first time I was shown this film it was at a small party thrown by someone I write and direct with. He and his wife have Ph.Ds in drama. They had wanted me to see it for the story and performances, but when I mentioned the direction and art direction and set and costume design, it opened new worlds for them. Inexplicably, they hadn't noticed.

Watch this film from a human, emotional perspective, and you will come away very satisfied. Watch it from technical point of view, vis-a-vis "Citizen Cane" - either way you will benefit. A masterpiece.
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Cleansing with clarity
chaos-rampant19 June 2009
Some movies you just don't have a whole lot to say about. No intricate symbolism to analyze, no hidden meanings to extrapolate, no big ideas to grapple with. Some movies (well all movies, but some more clear than others) simply take you by the shoulder and tell you "let me tell you how life is". Good old-fashioned storytelling that in all the sound and fury and clamor of the quirky, self-referential, overplotted cinema of our days seems to have fallen by the wayside. TENDER MERCIES is this kind of movie, a low-key character study that has no easy answers to give, no big twists, no disparate plot strands to tie neatly in the end. It is left as open-ended as it began. A washed up country singer wakes up in the room of a cheap motel, the floor strewn with empty whiskey bottles, with nowhere to go and not even a coin in his pocket to make a phone call.

When Horton Foote writes, all aspiring screenwriters should sit down and take notice. Not because he was a twice Oscar-decorated veteran (for this and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD), but because he exemplifies great writing in the most simple, clear fashion possible - writing from the inside out. And whereas TOMORROW, his previous collaboration with Robert Duvall (playing a poor, illiterate farmer in a Faulkner adaptation), a stark, slowburn but ultimately dour southern Gothic story that lacked the affinity for the Gothic to make it work, was not a total success, Tender Mercies is. And it's great because it is clear, honest and immediate in its all-encompassing totality.

An emotional clarity in the story reflected in Bruce Beresford's direction reflected back into the story. Everyone seems to be on the exact same page on the movie they're trying to make. Beresford doesn't intrude; he doesn't keep a minimalist distance either. He leaves enough room to the worldweary characters and rural scenery to speak for themselves but he's always there to add his subtle touches.

Take for example the scene when Robert Duvall returns home late at night after he stormed out furious a few hours earlier. A subtle dark layer has been woven into his character in a previous scene when he was described as a mean drunk and we saw him getting out of a liquor store with a bottle in a paper bag. Back home his wife lies in bed anxious for his return. She hears someone bumble at the door, grappling with door and keys, staggering in the dark as he gets in. She throws the lights on and we see Duvall, not looking good. But he tells her he's not drunk, that he bought booze and poured it down the street. As the wife gets up from bed to make him something to eat, foreshadowed menace and domestic violence have suddenly turned into reconciliation with his old life and faith in his new one. The movie is filled with these small, seemingly casual but masterfully orchestrated, beats of action and dialogue, beat by beat creating a poignant whole.

In the end we don't get the big catharsis. The heartstrings are barely tugged at all. But the combination of Duvall's realization ("I don't trust in happiness, never have, never will") and the scene where he and a small boy throw a ball in an empty field, says all there is to be said. About Duvall's character and life as seen through the writer's eyes. Honest in its intentions, pure in its emotional power and empathy, this is the kind of movie to be cherished by a small audience and ignored by the rest.
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Great stuff for those who like strong character development
bandw20 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
We tune into this story as Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall), a washed up country and western singer, has hit bottom. He is on a binge with a friend in a small motel in the middle of nowhere in Texas. Come morning his friend has gone, leaving Mac stranded with few options. Mac asks for work from Rosa (Tess Harper), the owner of the motel. Rosa has lost her husband in Vietnam and is with a young son called "Sonny." Rosa tells Mac he can help around the place for food and shelter, but no drinking. The relationship that develops between Mac, Rosa and Sonny ultimately helps him put his life back together.

This is a simple story, simply told, but with great believability and emotional power. Duvall deserved his Oscar for his role here. He must have identified with Mac in some significant way since he inhabits the role and wrote a couple of the songs. I can't think of another actor who could have done this as well. All the actors are good - they seem like they were plucked from real life. Seeing Ellen Barkin in one of her earliest films is a treat.

This movie illustrates what a roll of the dice marriage is. When Rosa married Mac I doubt she had any idea that his past talents and passions would resurface in such an important way, and Mac settles into a simpler and more honest life than he probably ever knew he could appreciate. Relationships evolve in unexpected ways and change the participants, for better or worse.

The narrative from the intense scene in the garden with Mac and Rosa to the end of the film summarizes the tenets of existentialism in a manner that would make Camus jealous.

Even if you are not a country and western music fan the songs in this movie are such an integral part of it that the strength of the movie can at least stimulate an appreciation of the genre.

Most all of us have had some tender mercies granted to us in our lives. This film causes us to reflect on those.
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Tender Mercies
Scarecrow-8810 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Simple, wonderfully acted, quietly effective drama about an alcoholic singer, Mac Sledge(Robert Duvall)whose career and life is careening into a complete disaster until he meets kind, warm-hearted Rosa Lee(Tess Harper), the widow of a young man who died in Vietnam and mother to a gentle, intelligent little boy. Mac, who has little left..money or self-respect..is able to straighten out his life when they accept him with love and devotion. He is able, for a while, to cut himself away from the country music business which made him a household name, but soon others find out his whereabouts including a struggling band who hold him to high-regard. Mac has a second ex-wife, Dixie(Betty Buckley), now quite a huge Country music star, he was abusive to when drunk that denies him a chance to re-unite with his 18-year old daughter Sue Anne(Ellen Barkin). Soon, however, Sue Anne finds him but sees that he's not quite the monster Dixie had led her to believe. Tragedy will inevitably strike Mac's life when Sue Anne decides to run away with a musician in Dixie's band, who is a drunk like he once was.

Unlike other films of it's ilk, "Tender Mercies" doesn't take that melodramatic turn one might expect. It's easy to guess that Mac would ruin what he has by going back to the bottle when a circumstance might shift from his control or that someone would come between the love Mac has with his new wife and step-son. But, this film doesn't because it's a much gentler, innocent tale that says you can change for the better when you come in contact with someone who will love you and have patience with you. There aren't the usual shouting matches between Mac and Rosa Lee one might expect and there isn't, thank God, the typical rift between a step-father and his step-son. Sure, Sonny(Allan Hubbard)wants to know about his father, how he died and such, but he doesn't harbor ill will toward his mother's choice as a husband. And, I think that might be a problem with certain folks who expect emotional fireworks and damage..it's too simple and behavior too toned down. The past of Mac, regarding his music, isn't denied by Rosa Lee. Right the opposite, which was a surprise to me..she doesn't say what we expect in these type of dramas.."It's me or the music?" And, the religious elements in the film, which are very present in Rosa Lee's life, aren't lampooned or poked fun at..there just here to show us that to her, and later Mac and Sonny, religion is an important aspect in their lives.

The performances by all considered are first-rate...simply not a false note. Low-key, to be sure,(..for the exception of Dixie, who has become a diva, but her anger towards Mac is justified and even he doesn't fault her for feeling the way she does, although he does desire to see his daughter)but the subtle characterizations still convey much. For instance, Duvall shows pain, frustration, and sorrow(his career, his daughter, loss of someone dear), but also joy, admiration, and love(instilled in his life by Rosa Lee and Sonny). Tess Harper is divine as Rosa Lee..never wavers in her love towards Mac and is rewarded by his faithfulness and sobriety. But, Betty Buckley really shines as Dixie, a woman who has endured much and is bitter to her very bones and always worried that her daughter will meet someone like her father. The music is terrific and the photography is stunning and somber. Simply put, one of the most beautiful rural character studies I've seen in some time.
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On The Wings Of A Snow White Dove
krorie18 August 2006
"Tender Mercies" is one of those rare Hollywood films that works in all departments, from the cast, the writer, the cinematographer, right on down to the smallest contributors.

The story concerns a popular country music recording artist, Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall), hooked on alcohol, used up by the Nashville shredding machine and now adrift looking for new directions when a younger widow, Rosa Lee (Tess Harper in her movie debut), running a second-rate motel in east Texas, with a son, Sonny (Allan Hubbard), to raise, takes him in. She becomes his salvation, his anchor. Rosa Lee is no saint yet she is very religious. Her method of comfort is tender mercy, found in the Bible. Sonny, whose father died in Vietnam, accepts Mac as his surrogate father, still asking his mother leading questions about the man he never knew.

Mac is unable to break completely free from his past life, keeping a satchel filled with recently written songs in his room. His ex-wife, Dixie (Betty Buckley), is now a successful country music performer. Mac attempts to go through Dixie's manager (at one time his manager), Harry (Wilford Brimley), but to no avail. Ultimately, a local band becomes interested in Mac's material, thus giving him encouragement and hope. His waters of recovery are muddied when his only child, a teenage daughter, Sue Anne (Ellen Barkin), re-enters his life desiring to find the love that was lost between father and daughter resulting from her parents' ugly divorce. A telling scene occurs when Sue Anne recalls an old song her father used to sing to her, "On The Wings Of A Dove." Mac claims he doesn't remember it. Shortly after Sue Anne departs, Mac begins singing the song as he works.

Horton Foot's script is loosely based on the life of the legendary country artist, Lefty Frizzell. Robert Duvall appropriately sings one of Lefty's best songs, "It Hurts To Face Reality," using the correct vocal inflections pioneered by Lefty, later utilized by the likes of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. Lefty's life paralleled that of Mac Sledge in many ways, including the drinking problem. Like Mac, Lefty was able to overcome the handicap and make a triumphant return to stardom just before an untimely death caused by his rambunctious life style.

Not only does Robert Duvall successfully pick and sing other artists' songs, he contributes two good compositions of his own, "Fool's Waltz," and "I've Decided to Leave Her Forever." Needless to say, Duvall deserved the Oscar he won for his performance.

The highly underrated Tess Harper keeps up with Robert Duvall all the way. The telling scenes between the two are accented as much by what is not said than by what is said. Sitting in front of the TV with Rosa Lee and at times Sonny with him, gives Mac the tranquil family life feeling he never had before. When Mac receives bad news toward the end of the film, Rosa Lee is there to comfort him but never speaks a word. Her facial expression tells it all. Ellen Barkin is another member of the cast who does an exceptional job in a fairly small yet critical role.

On a personal note, I taught Tess (on the roll, Tessie Washam), her sister, and two of her cousins, when she was a senior at Mammoth Spring High School in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas. She was enrolled in my speech class and won the speech award that year. She was interested in drama and determined to make a go of it. A few of her classmates tauted her in a friendly way, saying, "Yeah, and what chance does someone from a nowhere place in Arkansas have in Hollywood?" Her fortitude paid off and deservedly so. At the time, she told me her favorite play was "The Man Who Came To Dinner." One of her classmates and a close friend since childhood lost his life in Vietnam. That must have made the role of a wife whose husband had died in Vietnam even more relevant for her.

The IMDb trivia notes read, "When Mac was talking with the band about possibly joining them to record some songs, they stopped in front of a shop named T. Harper Hardware. Tess Harper played Rosa Lee, Mac's new wife." Adding to that note, Tessie's parents, the Washam's, owned and operated a hardware store in Mammoth Spring at the time "Tender Mercies" was released.
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Robert Duvall's journey to redemption...his Oscar-winning role...
Doylenf8 February 2007
TENDER MERCIES is a simple story of a country western singer's rise from the depths of drunken despair to respectability again after meeting a woman (TESS HARPER) with whom he falls in love, marries and is encouraged to try his hand at music again.

ROBERT DUVALL is Mac, the washed up singer, now the handyman at the motel run by Harper, who lives there with her young son. He's a legend in that area of Texas and is urged by an unknown group to sing and write for them--eventually even joining them on stage for one of his latest songs. Duvall plays the role with conviction, lending his voice to the songs in pleasant country style.

His ex-wife is bitter and unforgiving (BETTY BUCKLEY), and sees everything, even the tragic death of their daughter (ELLEN BARKIN) in terms of herself as the spotlight--and unable to treat him with any sort of respect. But he basks in the loving attention of his wife and his adopted son, getting his nourishment from his relationship with them rather than anything from his past.

It's a bittersweet story, simple and direct without any sub-plots or any kind of distraction and passes the time quickly in ninety minutes, more a character study of Mac than anything else.

I'm not a fan of country music nor this sort of western, but it has a certain homespun appeal and Duvall, of course, is an actor worth watching. It must have been a lean year for Oscars though--it's not the kind of performance that immediately grabs you and hasn't got Oscar written all over it.
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Most Excellent
gavin694229 January 2016
A broken-down, middle-aged country singer (Robert Duvall) gets a new wife, reaches out to his long-lost daughter, and tries to put his troubled life back together.

The film encompasses several different themes, including the importance of love and family, the possibility of spiritual resurrection amid death, and the concept of redemption through Mac Sledge's conversion to Christianity. Following poor test screening results, distributor Universal Pictures made little effort to publicize Tender Mercies, which Duvall attributed to the studio's lack of understanding of country music.

Although I have little interest in country music, no interesting religious conversation, and almost no interest in love and family, this film still spoke to me. Duvall is just perfect, and I had no idea he could sing. For his performance along, it deserves more recognition.
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Spoier: A warm worn spot in the heart
arieliondotcom7 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I was originally going to give this film a 9 out of 10 because it's a country type film with country style music, and I thought you'd have to have a country taste for it. But upon thinking of it (and just the fact that I'd spend that much time thinking about it shows you how great a film this is) I realized, no, the story is so universal, the acting so excellent, the music so enthralling, it passes boundaries and anyone can enjoy it.

It's difficult to believe that Betty Buckley and Robert Duvall are actually doing their own singing since neither has been given enough credit for those talents. Buckley known as the step-mom in Eight is Enough will captivate you with her song "Over You." She had a strong stage career but you never would have known it from that show, yet it's clear to see why here in just this one song that I guarantee you'll be humming and searching for as soon as you've seen the movie.

Robert Duvall is perfect as the country star has been who still has it but just doesn't realize it.

There are laughs and sadness, but it all comes together in a bittersweet note, literally, like a beautiful ribbon that ties together a broken heart.

See this movie. You'll never forget it once you have.
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Honest and straightforward
trotter-312 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Contains spoiler As I watched Tender Mercies, I couldn't help thinking of Hank Williams. Any Southern male who is over a certain age has some of Hank in his very being, even if he isn't a big fan of country music, and any movie about country music must measure up to that enormous legend. Even fifty or so years after his death, Hank is still spoken of in hushed tones throughout the South. In my opinion, Tender Mercies measures up quite well. Horton Foote wrote the screenplay for Tender Mercies, and he pays homage to Hank in at least one scene in the movie. I'll get to that later. The movie opens in 'Nowhere,' Texas. Mac Sledge (Duvall) collapses in a drunken stupor in a nowhere room, in a motel that is run by a young Viet Nam war widow named Rosa Lee (Harper), who has nowhere to go, and it is obvious that Mac has finally reached the bottom in his personal descent to nowhere. Mac is a broken down, formerly legendary country music composer and singer. Duvall did his own singing in the movie, and he did it very well. He was convincing, and that isn't an easy thing to do, because singing country music is more than just opening your mouth and shouting out the words. You have to have the voice quality, the inflection, the body language, and the ability to sing on pitch. It also helps to have a good band playing behind you. Duvall scored high on his four requirements, and the band was very good, indeed.

We don't know what caused Mac's descent into the bottle, and to obscurity, but it's obvious that he has lived there a long time. He is about 45, but looks at least ten years older. The movie is about Mac's return to life, respectability, and writing and performing his music. It is said that an alcoholic can't reform until he has reached the bottom of the bottle, and wants to reform. In the beginning of the movie, Mac has reached bottom, and intends to begin the long, arduous road up again. He has no money to pay his motel bill, so he offers to work it off. Rosa Lee warily agrees, but tells Mac that there will be no drinking on the premises. She has a young son of about nine years, who was one year old when his father died. Mac falls for Rosa Lee and asks her to think about marrying him. Rosa Lee says that yes, she will think about it, and pretty soon, they are married, but we learn about it only when Rosa Lee's son mentions his stepfather to a playmate. In many similar movies, the love and sacrifice of a good woman would be the vehicle for Mac's rehabilitation, but this movie is too honest to sink to that level of triteness. All is not rosy, and Mac returns to sobriety in fits and starts, with some backsliding along the way.

With one big exception, we learn this from a scene between Rosa Lee and Mac's daughter, Sue Ann (Barkin). Sue Ann asks if her father is still drinking, and Rosa Lee replies that he would drink on occasion away from home, but that he just put the liquor down one day and didn't take it up again.

The function of Rosa Lee is to point him in the right direction. She insists that he attend church, which Mac does, and eventually he is baptized. The movie presents a realistic portrayal of church people, avoiding the usual Hollywood clichés of venality and/or hypocrisy. Church people are just like everyone else, a mixture of good and bad, but if they are true to their calling they recognize and acknowledge the bad and repent of it. Mac is divorced from a famous country singer named Dixie (Buckley), who has made a career of singing his songs. Sue Ann is the focus of their mutual bitterness toward each other. After a bitter scene between Mac and Dixie, he recklessly drives away to find a drink. He comes home in the early morning hours and confesses that he had bought a bottle, but had poured it all out.

One day, a van carrying a group of young men drives up to the motel. They all get out of the van, and ask Rosa Lee for five dollars worth of gas, but they are musicians, and they are really there to meet Mac. Mac regards them warily, but eventually they become the vehicle for Mac's return to performing his music.

Toward the end of the movie, Mac receives word that Sue Ann has been killed in an automobile accident. As is the custom in much of the South, the body has been taken home before burial. Mac makes the trip to pay his last respects to Sue Ann, and, as he gets out of his truck, he looks for a second or two at the mansion, which used to be his home but now is occupied by Dixie. It is set on a small hill, and as Mac walks toward this Loveless Mansion On The Hill, Hank Williams' music came flooding back into my memory.

If you like country/western music, or are just a Bobby Duvall fan, see this movie.
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At Best It's Nothing Special
bigverybadtom10 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I saw it in the library and noticed it was an award winner, so I checked it out and watched it with my mother. Neither of us were impressed.

The story is about a former country music star who has collapsed into alcoholism and vagrancy, and ultimately winds up at a rural motel/gas station run by a young widow and her young son. He offers to work for her, and she accepts, telling him he could not drink. But he is still a country music legend, and he is first visited by a reporter, then a garage band who want to meet him. Also in the region are his ex-wife, also a country music star, and their daughter. The rest of the story, of course, has Mac's past catching up to him.

While the performances and characters are all credible, especially of the little boy who acts like a genuine little boy and not a precocious stereotype, the story is predictable and holds little in the way of surprises. The song that makes a major part of the story isn't even very good. We don't even learn much of anything about the country music industry or culture.

Not bad but not good either. It must have been a lean year at the Oscars.
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Spawned Some Knockoffs
RARubin6 July 2006
Tender Mercies from 1983 has spawned some knockoffs, made for TV films that you see on the Country Cable station. TM is still one of the best portrayals of poor Texas brush folks on flat, flat terrain. Sometimes tumbleweed tumbles by. Anyhow, one looks at that big sky and a country song comes to your lips. Robert Duvall plays Mac Sledge stoically in tight blue jeans and cowboy boots. Duvall slips off the Godfather set and takes that Texas accent where men sort of mumble homily's at a moments notice. Ah, he can't sing, but he gets a nice voice-over during a honky tonk gig.

So former Country star Duval has fallen hard and end drunkenly ends up at a rural Austin motel to take up with Tess Harper, a widow of the Vietnam War. Her young son needs a father. The ready made family makes do with gas station revenue while Duval dries out. Local citizens, boys in a garage band lure the has-been songwriter back into the music business. Former wife Trixie still hates his drunken ways and won't let Mac connect with his young daughter, teen Ellen Barker. After that, there's a tragedy.

I watched TM with a teen daughter and we enjoyed it. We're not talking Fellini or Welles here, but it kept me interested.
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this essential small-tale-with-a-big-heart boon, a slam-dunk melodrama
lasttimeisaw4 July 2017
An endearing portrait of a weather-beaten American country musician Mac Sledge (Duvall), who takes the pledge and plumps for an ordinary life with his new wife Rose Lee (Harper) in the sticks. Australian director Bruce Beresford's first Hollywood outing emphatically breaks his duck by inducing an Oscar-crowning tour-de-force from a wonderfully amiable Robert Duvall, and what is more at a premium is the film's unpretentious tonality and lyrical felicity which stirs up an aptly authentic reverberations among its viewers, out of the story's sensible universality and abstention from small-town provincialism.

Fetching up in a motel in a middle-of-nowhere Texas, the lush Mac is broke and has to pay off his staying by working for the motel owner, that happens to be Rose Lee, a young widow who has lost her husband in the Vietnam war and now runs the motel with her school-age son Sonny (Hubbard, this is his sole screen credit but he is down right sympathetic). A down-to-earth union takes its shape in due course and that is the blissful family life a man and a woman (and a fatherless child) could ever dream of.

Meantime, Mac's backstory trickles alongside his new-found happiness, his ex-wife Dixie Scott (Buckley, shrilly shines in her Dolly Parton-inflected singing bent and edgy streak) is still a highly demanded touring singer feeding off on songs Mac wrote for her, and Mac has been proscribed from seeing their daughter Sue Anne (Ellen Barkin's second film credit), now in a troubled age of 18, ever since the inimical divorce (whose raison d'être entails alcoholism and domestic violence). So naturally, there are some fences needed mending, and through tacit love, old/new friendship and religion (not pedagogic but with a waft of sincere communion), Mac will eventually get hold of the most precious values about love, loss, family and life itself (past and present), they are mundanely traditional, but gleaming with a patina of poetic finesse under Beresford's sober and unobtrusive execution (you might anticipate an old soak's inevitable interlude of backsliding, which would serve as a jolting plot swerve, but nonetheless, that doesn't need to happen every time in a movie's plot!), which elevates this gem from other blasé offerings replete with lachrymosity and/or melancholia.

The film is based on American playwright Horton Foote's tender-hearted and unaffected script (also reaped an Oscar), his very first original screenplay if truth be told, and there is no dispute on Mr. Duvall's quietly touching impersonation of a country singer in his own raw voice, like Mac's persona, his musical rendition is also mostly touching when he is simply strumming and humming inside his homestead, music should always have its self-pleasing precept before becoming a crowd-pleasing commodity. However, it is utterly remiss that Tess Harper is hardly hailed for her equally brilliant turn (a Golden Globe nomination is the solitary consolation, but she is leading in my book), an immaculate screen debut, her Rose Lee exemplifies a woman who truly understands how to tame a jaded soul and wills herself to stand behind her imperfect husband and support him through the vagaries, it is such a rare performance completely devoid of pretension and self- awarenss, her tranquil gaze magnificently rounds off this essential small-tale-with-a-big-heart boon, a slam-dunk melodrama.
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superb film
mattkratz30 April 2017
This is a good movie, good on plot and loaded on character study and message. Robert Duvall, in an Oscar-winning role, is a has-been country singer given a second chance with a new wife and a stepson (the previous father/husband in this family had been killed in Vietnam) while his ex-wife continues a successful singing career while prohibiting him from seeing their daughter due the the fact that he used to be an alcoholic and tended to be violent when he was drunk. He attempts to reconcile with his former family, gets a second chance at his career when an aspiring band drops by the gas station where he works, and makes the most of his second chance with his new family and has to deal with a new tragedy.

This is mostly a study about decisions in your life, relations with other people, dealing with tragedy, and second chances. It deserved its Oscar awards. Duvall and the rest of the superb cast was excellent, as were the songs and scenes. I loved it and you will too.

*** out of ****
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"Sing it like you mean it"
bkoganbing11 February 2017
Red State America never got treated better than in Tender Mercies. It's a simple and sublime story of a former country singing star trying to pick up the pieces of his life.

At one time Robert Duvall was one of the biggest names in country music with an appetite for life's pleasures to match. There's an opening flashback scene where we see a frightened Betty Buckley both trying to get away from a raging and drunken Duvall and protecting their little girl at the same time.

As Duvall has drifted into obscurity Buckley has grown into a big country Loretta Lynn/Patsy Cline type superstar. Now with her taking her tour into the area of Texas the two are destined to meet.

Duvall is now married to a woman who owns a small motel and filling station and he's a loving stepdad to young Allyn Hubbard. Tess Harper and Duvall are happy but both have a lot of stuff that is unsaid that gets said during the course of the film. Duvall also has now reunited with his daughter Ellen Barkin who may have inherited talent from both ends of the gene pool.

Tender Mercies is simple and profound with not a false note struck either in the singing or the acting. You will rarely see a performance as profound and as underplayed as Duvall's is this side of Spencer Tracy. Small wonder he was the Best Actor Oscar winner. Horton Foote's original screenplay also won the other Oscar that Tender Mercies took home.

If you're a country music fan you'll love this film and for Robert Duvall fans it's a must.
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Love & Mercy
sol-27 January 2017
Reduced to a life of drunkenness, a former famous country singer finds the inspiration to turn his life around after befriending a lonely widow who works an outskirts gas station in this Horton Foote scripted drama that won Robert Duvall his only ever Oscar. Always reliable when given the right character to play, Duvall is excellent throughout and the film benefits from a memorable, emotionally charged theme song that was also nominated for an Oscar. The overall film though is never quite as compelling as Duvall's performance. While the script offers memorable dialogue ("I don't trust happiness"), it provides little in the way of plot complications for Duvall's character to overcome. Initially, a nosey reporter and a bunch of country music fans who track Duvall down seem like they might tear at old wounds, but on the contrary, they only help him to further improve. Admittedly a surprise off-screen death offers a little jolt, but in general, 'Tender Mercies' offers such an upbeat tale, done in such high spirits that it is hard to take it as anything down-to-earth or realistic. Quitting alcohol proves no challenge to Duvall; same goes for rejoining the music scene - and thus his character never really feels like he has that much to go through. As mentioned though, Duvall is superb, and in fact the entire supporting cast - especially Allan Hubbard as a surrogate son - deliver well. The film also makes country living under wide open skies look very attractive. Its positive reputation is certainly understandable, but one's mileage with 'Tender Mercies' may vary.
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