Directed By: Bruce Beresford
Starring: Robert Duvall, Tess Harper, Betty Buckley
Tag line: "Robert Duvall is Mac Sledge, down and out country singer. His struggle for fame was over. His fight for respect was just beginning"
Trivia: Wilford Brimley was cast at the urging of Robert Duvall
Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) is a former country / western singer who's fallen on hard times. To get his life back on track, he accepts a job as a handyman for a small roadside motel, which is owned and operated by Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), a single mother left widowed when her husband was killed in Vietnam. Before long, Mac straightens himself out, marries Rosa Lee, and forms a special bond with her son (Alan Hubbard). Things are going so well, in fact, that he's started writing music again, and agrees to serve as front man for a local band. Strengthened by his new outlook on life, Mac will even attempt to reconcile with his estranged ex-wife, singing sensation Dixie (Betty Buckley), who, for years, has been preventing him from visiting their daughter, Sue Anne (Ellen Barkin).
Robert Duvall earned an Academy Award for his performance as Mac Sledge, a man who, when we first meet him, is at the lowest point in his life, lying penniless and drunk on a motel room floor. Though friendly, Duvall's Mac remains an enigma through much of Tender Mercies, revealing his history a little bit at a time; we only learn of his past musical accomplishments when a reporter (Paul Gleason) happens upon the motel and recognizes him. Duvall pulls off a minor miracle with his portrayal of Mac, remaining introspective and distant, yet at the same time building a loving relationship with Rosa and her young son, a relationship that's entirely convincing. Through his interaction with them, Mac finds his doorway back to the world of the living, and even though he still shies away from his past (it isn't until they've been together for several months that Mac tells Rosa she's actually his third wife), he now has the support of those around him should he ever choose to face it head-on.
Having played his share of manic individuals, including Network's loud-mouthed television producer and Col. Kilgore, the battle-crazy surfer of Apocalypse Now who loved the smell of napalm in the morning, Tender Mercies provided Robert Duvall with an opportunity to turn his attentions inward, exploring a character who'd just as soon keep his mouth shut than let you know what he's thinking. As Mac, Duvall is downright meticulous, peeling away the outer layers of his character's personality piece by piece, his quiet manner piquing our curiosity while also gaining our respect, and though we barely know Mac Sledge, we cannot help but like him.