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Tender Mercies (October 4, 2012)

Horton Foote was a playwright and screenwriter, born in Wharton, Texas, who, after an attempt to become an actor, first found a foothold in his chosen calling with several television scripts in the 1950s for drama shows like Playhouse 90 and Studio One. When he won an Oscar for the screenplay he wrote for To Kill A Mockingbird, the 1962 film based on Harper Lee’s novel, he had arrived. In the 1980s, there was an increase in films being made around Dallas, and especially, in Waxahachie, just south of Dallas. Tender Mercies was made in 1983. Foote again won an Oscar for his script. It was followed by several other movies with scripts by Horton Foote. His script for The Trip to Bountiful (1985), a film based on one of his television plays, was nominated for an Oscar. He wrote a trilogy of films (1918, On Valentine’s Day, and Courtship) which starred his daughter, the actress Hallie Foote, and which were based on his parents’ lives in the second decade of the twentieth century.

Tender Mercies was the first American film made by the Australian director Bruce Beresford, whose direction and Oscar-nominated screenplay for the WWI film Breaker Morant had come to the notice of American filmgoers two years earlier. Tender Mercies starred Robert Duvall, Tess Harper and Betty Buckley. Duvall won the best actor Oscar. Beresford was nominated for the best director Oscar, the song “Over You” by Austin Roberts and Bobby Hart was nominated for an Oscar, and the picture was nominated for best picture.

Roger Ebert has written, “With the cinematographer Russell Boyd, Beresford maintains a certain tactful distance from some scenes, such as the marriage proposal. There are alternating close-ups, but the movie isn't punched up that way and prefers to see these people in the context of where they live.” I would say that this is, at the end, a quiet film, where the acting is more in the eyes than in the actions. Ebert also wrote “The down-to-earth quality of (Horton Foote’s) characters drew attention away from his minimalist storytelling; all the frills were stripped away. When interesting people have little to say, we watch the body language, listen to the notes in their voices. Rarely does a movie elaborate less and explain more than Tender Mercies.”

I hope you enjoy watching it with me tonight.