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Tender Mercies

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Tender Mercies (1983)

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Additional Information
Robert Duvall is Mac Sledge, down and out country singer. His struggle for fame was over. His fight for respect was just beginning

From Bruce Beresford, the acclaimed director of "Breaker Morant." Written by Horton Foote, screenwriter of "To Kill A Mockingbird."

Robert Duvall is Mac Sledge, His fight for respect was just beginning.

Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall), a once-famous country western singer, wakes up broke, alone and hung over in a tiny Texas motel run by widowed Rosa Lee (Tess Harper). Having nowhere else to go, Sledge takes a job at the motel, and through the kindness and faith of Rosa he changes his self-destructive ways. He marries Rosa (after he's baptized at her urging) and becomes a father/pal to her son (Allan Hubbard). Given an opportunity to make a comeback, Sledge considers leaving his new family behind, but after a reunion with his own unhappy daughter (Ellen Barkin), he vows never again to ruin anyone else's life. A simple story simply told, Tender Mercies is a warm, persuasive tale of redemption, with Robert Duvall giving one of his finest performances. Also appearing is Betty Buckley as Duvall's ex-wife, a Dolly Parton-type country star, and Wilford Brimley as Duvall's former manager.

Tender Mercies is a 1983 American drama film directed by Bruce Beresford. The screenplay by Horton Foote focuses on Mac Sledge, a recovering alcoholic country music singer who seeks to turn his life around through his relationship with a young widow and her son in rural Texas. Robert Duvall plays the role of Mac; the supporting cast includes Tess Harper, Betty Buckley, Wilford Brimley, Ellen Barkin and Allan Hubbard.
Financed by EMI Films, Tender Mercies was shot largely in Waxahachie, Texas. The script was rejected by several American directors before the Australian Beresford accepted it. Duvall, who sang his own songs in the film, drove more than 600 miles (966 km) throughout the state, tape recording local accents and playing in country music bands to prepare for the role. He and Beresford repeatedly clashed during production, at one point prompting the director to walk off the set and reportedly consider quitting the film.
Mac Sledge's conversion to Christianity serving as an important turning point, the film's themes include the importance of a loving family and the possibility of spiritual redemption in the face of physical death. 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.
The film was released on March 4, 1983, in a limited number of theaters. Although unsuccessful at the box office, it was critically acclaimed and earned five Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. Tender Mercies won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay for Foote and Best Actor for Duvall, his first and, as of 2013, only win.

Philip and Mary Ann Hobel spent a long time seeking a distributor for Tender Mercies without any success. Duvall, who began to doubt the film would be widely released, was unable to help the Hobels because he was busy trying to find a distributor for Angelo My Love, a film he had written, directed and produced. Eventually, Universal Pictures agreed to distribute Tender Mercies.[63] Test screenings for the film were held, which Beresford described as the most unusual he had ever experienced. The director said that the preview audiences appeared to be very engaged with the picture, to the point the theaters were so silent, "if you flicked a piece of paper on the floor, you could hear it fall." However, the post-screening feedback was, in Beresford's words, "absolutely disastrous."[12] As a result, Universal executives lost faith in the film and made little effort to promote it.[6][64] Foote said of the studio, "I don't know that they disliked the film, I just think they thought it was inconsequential and of no consequence at all. I guess they thought it would just get lost in the shuffle."[6] Others in the film industry were equally dismissive; one Paramount Pictures representative described the picture as "like watching paint dry.

Tender Mercies was released on March 4, 1983,[65] in only three theaters: one in New York City, one in Los Angeles, and one in Chicago. New York Times critic Vincent Canby observed that it was released during "the time of year when distributors usually get rid of all of those movies they don't think are worth releasing in the prime moviegoing times of Christmas and the midsummer months".[63] The simultaneous release of Angelo My Love led to some more publicity for Duvall himself, but was of no help to Tender Mercies.[63] Duvall also believed that Universal's lack of familiarity and comfort with southern culture and the country music genre further reduced their faith in the film. When country star Willie Nelson offered to help publicize it, a studio executive told Duvall she did not understand how the singer could contribute to the promotion, which Duvall said was indicative of the studio's failure to understand both the film and the country music genre.[9][66]
Tender Mercies was shown in competition at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival,[67] where it was described as a relatively optimistic alternative to darker, more violent entries like One Deadly Summer, Moon in the Gutter and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.[68] It was also shown at the 1983 International Film Festival of India in New Delhi.[69] A jury headed by director Lindsay Anderson determined that none of the films in contention, including Tender Mercies, were good enough to win the Golden Peacock, the festival's top prize. Film critic Jugu Abraham said the jury's standards were higher than those of the Academy Awards, and that Tender Mercies' lack of success at the festival was a "clear example of what is good cinema for some, not being so good for others".

Following its brief theatrical run, Universal Studios quickly sold the film's rights to cable companies, allowing Tender Mercies to be shown on television. When the film unexpectedly received five Academy Award nominations nearly a year after its original release, the studio attempted to redistribute the film to theaters; however, the cable companies began televising the film about a week before the Oscar ceremony, which essentially halted any attempts at a theatrical rerelease.[6] When the film first played on HBO in March 1984, it surpassed the three major networks in ratings for homes with cable televisions.[71] Tender Mercies was released on VHS some time later, and was first released on DVD on June 22, 1999

Tender Mercies was not considered a box office success.[12][71][73] In its first three days, March 4–6, the film grossed $46,977 from exclusive engagements at the Tower East Theater in New York ($21,183), the Fine Arts Theater in Los Angeles ($18,254) and the Carnegie Theater in Chicago ($7,540).[65] Tender Mercies eventually played at a total of 37 theaters and grossed $8,443,124

Tender Mercies received mostly positive reviews.[8][71] Richard Corliss of Time declared it the "best American movie of the new year".[75] Carol Olten of The San Diego Union-Tribune declared Tender Mercies the best movie of 1983, and "the most poignant, but forthright, film of the year, with a brilliant performance by Robert Duvall".[76] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "This is a small, lovely and somewhat overloaded film about small-town life, loneliness, country music, marriage, divorce and parental love, and it deals with all of these things in equal measure. Still, the absence of a single, sharply dramatic story line is a relatively small price to pay for the plainness and clarity with which these other issues are defined." She also praised Beresford's direction, which she said lent the movie a light touch.[77] The Times' Canby wrote, "In all respects Tender Mercies is so good that it has the effect of rediscovering a kind of film fiction that has been debased over the decades by hack moviemakers, working according to accepted formulas, frequently to the applause of the critics as well as the public."[63] Leonard Maltin gave it three out of four stars, applauding Duvall in particular and describing it as a "winning but extremely low-key film", though he characterized Foote's screenplay as "not so much a story as a series of vignettes".[78] David Sterritt of The Christian Science Monitor praised the film for its values, for underscoring the good in people and for avoiding flashiness and quick cuts in favor of a subtle and deliberately paced story, while maintaining a PG rating and omitting sex, drugs and violence. He also felt, however, that it tended toward melodrama on a few occasions and that the soundtrack had "a bit of syrupy music ... especially at the end".[3]
Some reviews were less favorable. David Ansen of Newsweek said, "While one respects the filmmaker's small-is-beautiful philosophy, this story may indeed be too small for its britches. ... Beresford's nice little movie seems so afraid to make a false move that it runs the danger of not moving at all."[79] Linda Beath of The Globe and Mail said Duvall's performance was "fabulous," but that the film was "very slight" compared to Beresford's Australian pictures.[69] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post panned the film, criticizing its mood and tempo and describing Buckley as its only true asset: "Tender Mercies fails because of an apparent dimness of perception that frequently overcomes dramatists: they don't always know when they've got ahold of the wrong end of the story they want to tell."[80]
Many critics specifically praised Duvall's performance. Sterritt called it "one of the most finely wrought achievements to reach the screen in recent memory."[81] In Corliss's description, "Duvall's aging face, a road map of dead ends and dry gulches, can accommodate rage or innocence or any ironic shade in between. As Mac he avoids both melodrama and condescension, finding climaxes in each small step toward rehabilitation, each new responsibility shouldered."[75] Ansen said, "Robert Duvall does another of his extraordinary disappearing acts. He vanishes totally inside the character of Mac Sledge."[79] Maslin said he "so thoroughly transformed into Mac that he even walks with a Texan's rolling gait"; she also complimented the performances of the supporting cast.[77] According to a review in People, "Duvall gives it everything he has, which is saying a great deal. His beery singing voice is a revelation, and his unfussy, brightly burnished acting is the kind for which awards were invented." The review also described Betty Buckley as "bitchy and brilliant".[82] Duvall was praised as well for pulling off his first true romantic role; the actor said of the response, "This is the only film where I've heard people say I'm sexy. It's real romantic. Rural romantic. I love that part almost more than anything."[21]
Reflecting on the film a decade after it came out, critic Danny Peary said he found Duvall's restrained portrayal "extremely irritating" and criticized the entire cast, save for Buckley, for their "subdued, emotions-in-check, phony 'honest' performances. You just wish the whole lot of them would start tickling each other."[83] In his book Alternate Oscars, listing his personal opinions of who should have won the Academy Awards each year, Peary excluded Tender Mercies from all the categories, and chose Michael Caine as deserving of the Best Actor honor for Educating Rita.[83] In June 2009, critic Roger Ebert included Tender Mercies in The Great Movies, his series of reviews celebrating what he considers the most important films of all time. He praised what he called one of Duvall's most understated performances, as well as Foote's minimalist storytelling and the restraint and patience of Beresford's direction. Ebert said of Foote's screenplay, "The down-to-earth quality of his characters drew attention away from his minimalist storytelling; all the frills .

Release Date: March 4, 1983 2 Loews Tower East

Distrib: Universal

Boxoffice: $8,443,124 2013: $21,871,700


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