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"My Easters With Robert Duvall" by Dimitri Cavalli, published on Easter Sunday (April 4, 2010) on the First Things magazine Web site

"My Easters With Robert Duvall" by Dimitri Cavalli, published on Easter Sunday (April 4, 2010) on the First Things magazine Web site

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Published by Dimitri Cavalli
This is a review of the Robert Duvall's film, "Tender Mercies" (1983), which earned him first Academy Award for Best Actor. The author, who watches the film every Easter Sunday as part of a personal holiday tradition, discusses the film and recalls how he first saw it during a key transition period in his life.
This is a review of the Robert Duvall's film, "Tender Mercies" (1983), which earned him first Academy Award for Best Actor. The author, who watches the film every Easter Sunday as part of a personal holiday tradition, discusses the film and recalls how he first saw it during a key transition period in his life.

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Published by: Dimitri Cavalli on Apr 07, 2012
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FIRST THINGS
My Easters With Robert Duvall
Dimitri Cavalli
April 4, 2010
We all have our holiday traditions whether it's watching college football andhaving a big dinner with the family on Thanksgiving or Midnight Mass onChristmas and opening presents afterward. On Easter Sunday, I spendmost of the day with my family. Sometime in the late evening hours,however, I also spend some time with actor Robert Duvall. To be honest, Ihave never met him. I just watch Duvall in a little film he made,
Oscar nominations for his work in such well-known films as
The Godfather
(1972), Apocalypse Now
(1979), and
The Great Santini
(1979), his only
Academy Award for Best Actor.
In 1983,
Tender Mercies
was released in a handful of theaters. It didn'tmake much money at first. However, the critics who saw it gave
Tender
Mercies
enthusiastic reviews. The film went on to receive five AcademyAward nominations, winning two: best actor for Duvall and best originalscreenplay forHorton Foote, who died last year.
Tender Mercies
eventually
grossed over $8 million at the box office (a respectable showing for a low-budget film in limited release). It also received high ratings on cable
television and became a popular rental on VHS.
Despite all the attention
Tender Mercies
received, I missed it. The Bronx,New York, where I grew up and still live, didn't get cable until 1990. My pre-Blockbuster, local video store may have carried it, but I probablyoverlooked it in the drama and new releases section. Even if I did see theVHS box for
Tender Mercies
on the store's racks, I don't think I would haverented it since as a young teenager, I naturally preferred action films,
comedies, and science fiction.
Although my interests in film gradually broadened since then,
Tender
Mercies
continued to pass me by. As a young adult, I learned about the film
 
I finally saw
Tender Mercies
on one of the most important dates on the
Christian calendar and during an important transition period in my life. OnEaster Sunday, April 23,
2000,
a Long Island TV-station that my cable
system gets aired
Tender Mercies
in the late afternoon.That particular Easter was quite meaningful for me. The very next day, Istarted a full-time writing job with a small publishing company. I hadwanted to be a writer, but it took me a long time to get started. The job I hadjust left was with a security company as an alarm dispatcher. I took it theprevious year because I couldn't get a job with either a magazine or a
publishing company and needed something to pay bills in the meantime. I
also tried freelance writing, but I got nothing but rejection notices
(including from this magazine).
At the security job, I worked midnight to 8 AM on W. 47th Street inManhattan's Diamond District. The block where I worked can be seen in the
Dustin Hoffman film,
The Marathon Man
(1976), where an elderly
Holocaust survivor pursues the Nazi war criminal (Laurence Olivier) she
remembers from a death camp. To rebuild my bank account and save up
for a new car, I worked a lot of overtime. When I got home in the mornings,I slept only five or six hours (and much less when I worked double shifts). I
ate once or twice a day and ended up losing about 3o pounds in the ii
months I worked there. The job left me physically and emotionallyexhausted. I was grateful when my prayers were answered, and when Ifinally got my first, full-time writing job.So on Easter Sunday in
2000,
still tired from my last job but filled withhope that I would be starting my new writing job the next day, I watched
Tender Mercies.
My choice to watch it wasn't preplanned. It just happenedto be conveniently on when I had some free time. I enjoyed the film andfound, in some ways, that it deeply resonated with what was going on myown life back then. Since
2000,
I made watching
Tender Mercies
on EasterSunday a personal tradition.
Tender Mercies
is not explicitly about Easter. Its themes of redemption,forgiveness, hope, and personal transformation through religious faith,
however, reflect what Easter represents. It seemed so appropriate that it
 
Tender Mercies
is about a man named Mac Sledge (Duvall). When we first
see Mac in the opening scene, he has literally hit rock bottom. Mac is lying
unconscious on the dirty floor of a motel room on some remote Texas
highway. The night before, he lost a fight with his traveling companion overa bottle of alcohol. His companion left Mac behind and stuck him with the
bill.
Mac was once a popular country music singer and talented songwriter.Years—perhaps decades—of alcohol abuse destroyed his life, career, andmarriage. Mac, who once had fame and fortune, now has nothing. While heis washed up, Mac's ex-wife, Dixie Scott (Betty Buckley), is at the height ofher own popularity as a country music star. Mac used to physically abuseDixie and even tried to kill her once during a drunken rage.The motel where Mac finds himself is owned by Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), ayoung, pretty widow with a young son nicknamed Sonny (Allan Hubbard).Rosa Lee's husband was killed in Vietnam. She remembers that he was "just
a boy" but "a good boy. I think he would have been a fine man."
With no way to pay the bill, Mac swallows his pride and approaches Rosa
Lee. "Lady, I'm broke," he says. "But I'll be glad to work out what I owe
you." She agrees but lays down one rule: no drinking while he works for her."Yes ma'am," he politely replies. Mac does some odd jobs around the motel.Although he works off his debt, Mac still has nowhere else to go. He asksRosa Lee if he can stay on and do more work for her. She agrees and gives
him room and board and $2 an hour (well below minimum wage at the
time.) Mac stays in a trailer.Rosa Lee sings with the choir at her Baptist church in town. Mac beginsaccompanying Rosa Lee and Sonny to church. Although he has never beenbaptized, Mac has always been somewhat religious. In the pew with Sonny,Mac sings "Jesus Saves" with enthusiasm.After several months of manual labor and going to church regularly, Macconcludes that his drinking is behind him. Rosa Lee observes: "I'm glad. I
don't think it gets you anywhere."

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