Tender Mercies

  • Directors: Bruce Beresford
  • Producers: Philip Hobel
  • Writers: Horton Foote
  • Genres: Drama, Music
  • Actors: Robert Duvall, Tess Harper, Betty Buckley, Wilford Brimley, Ellen Barkin, Allan Hubbard

Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall), a washed up, alcoholic country singer, awakens at a run-down Texas roadside motel and gas station after a night of heavy drinking. He meets the owner, a young widow named Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), and offers to work in exchange for a room. Rosa Lee, whose husband was killed in the Vietnam War, is raising her young son, Sonny (Allan Hubbard), on her own. She agrees to let Mac stay under the condition that he doesn’t drink while working. The two begin to develop feelings for one another, mostly during quiet evenings sitting alone and sharing bits of their life stories.

Mac resolves to give up alcohol and start his life anew. After some time passes, he and Rosa Lee wed. They start attending a Protestant church on a regular basis. One day, a newspaper reporter visits the hotel and asks Mac whether he has stopped recording music and chosen an anonymous life. When Mac refuses to answer, the reporter explains he is writing a story about Mac and has interviewed his ex-wife, Dixie Scott (Betty Buckley), a country music star who is performing nearby.

After the story is printed, the neighborhood learns of Mac’s past, and members of a local country–western band visit him to show their respect. Although he greets them politely, Mac remains reluctant to open up about his past. Later, he secretly attends Dixie’s concert. She passionately sings several songs that Mac wrote years earlier, and he leaves in the middle of the performance. Backstage, he talks to Dixie’s manager, his old friend Harry (Wilford Brimley). Mac gives him a copy of a new song he has written and asks him to show it to Dixie. Mac tries to talk to Dixie, but she becomes angry upon seeing him and warns him to stay away from their 18-year-old daughter, Sue Anne (Ellen Barkin).

Back home, Mac keeps quiet about his emotional pain, although he wonders aloud to Rosa Lee why his once sorry existence has been given meaning and, on the other hand, his daughter died. Throughout his mourning, Mac continues his new life with Rosa Lee and Sonny. In the final scene, Sonny finds a football Mac has left him as a gift. Mac watches the hotel from a field across the road and sings “On the Wings of a Dove” to himself. Sonny thanks him for the football and the two play catch together in the field.

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