October 23, 2003
For fans of actor Robert Duvall, Tomorrow (1972) has been a long sought after and vastly underrated movie in his lengthy career. Adapted from a short story by William Faulkner, Duvall first essayed the role on the stage opposite Olga Bellin. It was a modest production but one that sparked enough interest for a subsequent cinematic adaptation.
Set in Depression era Mississippi, a jury deliberates on the fate of a man who killed another trespassing on his property with a gun. Everyone agrees that the man killed in self-defense but one juror, Jackson Fentry (Duvall), quietly and firmly disagrees. He won’t say why and the film flashes back to explain his puzzling stance.
When he was younger, Jackson was a hired as a caretaker for an older man and his property. The film takes particular care in showing Jackson’s everyday business: shaving, cleaning his clothes, or just sitting and thinking. For Christmas, he decides to go home and visit his father. As Jackson is about to leave he finds a pregnant woman (Bellin) passed out on the ground. Sarah is too weak to continue on her way and so he takes her in. A relationship gradually develops between these two lonely people.
Robert Duvall’s performance is a marvel of minimalism. Jackson is a simple man who speaks plainly and directly but only when necessary. Duvall conveys his character’s feelings through body language and facial expressions. It is a stripped-down, economic performance that is a refreshing contrast to the more mannered performances in recent films. Over the course of the movie, Duvall reveals that under his seemingly emotionless exterior lies an untapped reservoir of compassion.
It is this reservoir that Sarah taps into as she breaks through Jackson’s quiet exterior. She is the more verbal character (not hard all things considered) and is able to get him to open up. Olga Bellin delivers a strong, sensitive performance. Sarah has had a tough life but she doesn’t want to be pitied.
In keeping with the trend in the ‘70s to go for gritty realism (see Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller), Tomorrow is shot almost like a documentary in stark black and white film stock that evokes a period feel reminiscent of The Grapes of the Wrath (1940).
Aside from excellent liner notes by film critic Sheila Benson, William Faulkner’s short story is also included with illustrations by artist Floyd Davis from The Saturday Evening Post. This is a really nice touch and provides an excellent primer for watching the movie.
“A Conversation with Robert Duvall and Horton Foote” was recorded in New York City in 2003 exclusively for this DVD. Foote adapted Faulkner’s short story and talks briefly about the genesis of the project. He first adapted the story into a stage play and then for the big screen. It is obvious that this project was (and is) near and dear to their hearts. Both men speak warmly of the experience of working with each other on this project.
There is also a theatrical trailer.
Tomorrow is a thoughtful meditation on compassion and loss. Robert Duvall’s Jackson Fentry embodies both of these emotions over the course of this excellent character study. Fans of the veteran actor are finally rewarded with a fine DVD that features a stunning transfer of the movie and extras that enhance the experience of watching it.