Tender Mercies (1983) Bruce Beresford (written by Horton Foote)
I have loved this movie since I first viewed it in 1983. Think “Crazy Heart” but better. Robert Duvall won a very deserving Best Actor Oscar for playing the down-and-out ex-country music star, Mac Sledge, who finds redemption in a small Texas town living a simple life with his new wife, Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), and her young son, Sonny (Allan Hubbard). Ellen Barkin, as Sue Anne, plays his estranged, and lost, daughter, and Betty Buckley plays his ex-wife, Dixie, who is a current country music star. Wilford Brimley appears as Dixie’s agent and Paul Gleason is a reporter who ferrets out Mac Sledge’s location. I’m not a big country music fan but I do like this soundtrack because I love the characters in the movie. Horton Foote won an Oscar, and the director and movie were both nominated.
Duvall does his own singing, proving once again his multi-talents (he also composed two of the songs in the soundtrack). Allan Hubbard never appeared in another film but was entirely captivating as Sonny (“We done it, Mac. We’re baptized... Do you think I look any different?”). Betty Buckley sings beautifully and plays the indulgent mother and angry ex-wife wonderfully. Watch for the moving, tender performance of “Over You” and the juxtaposition of her reaction when she sees Mac.
One particularly memorable moment occurs when Sue Anne makes a surprise visit to her father, Mac, whom she hasn’t seen in years. He wants to connect but doesn’t want to come between her and his ex-wife. When Sue Anne asks about her remembrance of Mac singing a song to her about the wings of a dove, he denies any recollection. When she drives away, he stands at the window watching and softly sings “Wings of a Dove”, then turns away with a palpable sigh.
Towards the end of the movie, Mac questions why certain things happen, or don’t happen (“I don’t trust happiness, never did and never will”), Sonny asks how his Daddy died (in Vietnam) (“I don’t know...he was just a boy, but he was a good boy”), and Mac is singing “Wings of a Dove” to himself outdoors before Sonny joins him with the football he received from Mac. Tess Harper is watching them from the porch and continues to thank God for his “tender mercies.” While this scene is playing out, “You Are What Love Means to Me’, written and sung by Craig Bickhardt, plays out the movie to the credits. You move away from the movie knowing that the losses these characters have suffered have brought them to this moment of appreciating the simple and good things in life.