Tender Mercies

Tender Mercies (1982)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Robert Duvall, Ellen Barkin, Tess Harper, Wilford Brimley
Extras: Documentary, Talent Files, Trailer

’Tender Mercies’ was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1984 and won two — Best Actor for Robert Duvall and Best Original Screenplay for Horton Foote. Reading just a synopsis of the story one wouldn’t immediately think of ’Tender Mercies’ as an Oscar contender but the combination of Bruce Beresford’s deft direction, strong performances from the entire cast, and Foote’s very moving script combine to imbue this tale of a down and out country singer with more gravity and pathos than it would otherwise seem to warrant.

Previously released in a decent enough DVD edition by Artisan, ’Tender Mercies’ has now fallen under the care of Anchor Bay and the end result is a brand new DVD featuring a newly restored print and a new retrospective documentary.

Robert Duvall stars as Mac Sledge, a country singer whose alcoholism has cut short both his career and his marriage to fellow superstar singer Dixie Scott (Betty Buckley). In rural Texas, the now anonymous Sledge falls in love with a young widow named Rosa Lee (Tess Harper) and sets out to straighten up and create a new life for himself. But the past has a way of catching up to those who most want to avoid it and soon Sledge must come to terms with his own fame and his previous family — especially the teenaged daughter from his first marriage, Sue Anne (Ellen Barkin), who he hardly knows.

’Tender Mercies’ is at its heart a story about the power of love. At the start of the film Mac Sledge seems to have lost everything but through the love of his new family and the loyal fans who refuse to give up on the memory of what he once was, Sledge is able to come to terms with his past and embark on a promising future.

It’s really a very basic, been done a thousand times, type of story but every performance here is flawless and every line of dialogue rings true. Robert Duvall is among the finest American actors working today and this 1983 film falls right smack in the middle of his illustrious and on-going screen career. The range of emotion that he puts his Mac Sledge character through makes him not only believable but a man worth rooting for. ’Tender Mercies’ might not break any new ground as a film but the sheer excellence of the production truly shines.

Presented in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen, the DVD sports a brand new video transfer. The image is fairly sharp and is free from all but a few minor blemishes. Colors are a bit muted and the print is noticeably grainy but neither factor is very bothersome.

Audio comes in English and French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mixes. Dynamic range is quite constrained with no deep bass and an occasionally shrill high end. While dialogue, effects, and music are all clear and well balanced one can’t help but notice the limitations of the original mono soundtrack.

The disc also boasts a new retrospective documentary entitled ’Miracles and Mercies.’ Running about 30 minutes, this piece contains interviews with most of the primary cast and crew members and the benefit of almost 20 years worth of hindsight makes for an especially insightful look at the film.

Rounding out the extras are talent files and the film’s theatrical trailer.

Anchor Bay’s new DVD release features improved video, adequate audio, and even a bonus documentary on the film. Those who already own the previous Artisan edition will probably find it worthwhile to upgrade while fans of good, quality drama should find ’Tender Mercies’ to be well worth a purchase or rental.