1982, Australia, 92 min.
Haggard and used up, Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall, in an Oscar-winning performance) awakens from another bender in a motel in an anonymous stretch of Texas. Unable to pay his bill, he arranges with owner Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), a young, widowed, single mother, to work off his debt. He stays on and straightens out. Mac and Rosa Lee get close. They marry. Life is fine until Mac returns to his scorched past in country music, which includes a resentful ex-wife (Betty Buckley) and an estranged daughter (Ellen Barkin). The theme of second chances in late adulthood is a familiar one to moviegoers, but the difference with Tender Mercies is how director Bruce Beresford and screenwriter Horton Foote don’t indulge in weepy Hollywood theatrics. Small, authentic moments—a glance here, a pause there—accumulate until the last scene, when we realize this is an intensely satisfying film about regular people giving themselves permission to embrace happiness.