May be it is what Edward Said called "late style." Robert Altman's last film is completely devoid of the casual cynicism and misanthropy that is characteristic of much of his work. Instead what we get is a warmhearted and generous elegy, a self-evidently valedictory statement (He died not long after it was made). It is easy to see Altman himself contemplating the Last Things as he made the film. What is remarkable is that there is not even a hint of bitterness or even a regret. There is absolutely no sentimentality or narcissistic self-boasting either. "I don't do eulogies," as the master of the ceremonies himself says. Also as another of the character says in the film when one old man, his colleague in the radio show, dies suddenly, "an old man's death is not a tragedy."
At another level it is also about another death - the death of local culture and community with these a mode of life which was based on shared beliefs, values and traditions which the titular community radio show stood for. In our world when everything is contingent on financial realities, shows like these have no reason to exist. In fact the only villain in the film is the businessman from Texas (called "the axeman") who has bought the theatre to convert it into a parking lot. Even for him there is no anger or bitterness though the film does make us expect his demise with anticipatory glee. Death itself is made alluring by embodying it in a figure of a traditional femme fatale in a white trench coat who stalks the backstage of the radio show looking for "victims."
Like in all Altman's films it is impossible to decide who is better than the other. It is as if all actors were part of some ecosystem, each nourishing the other. Even smaller roles get amplified the way Altman shoots the scenes. It is not hard to see why actors loved him so much. It is not an easy way to shoot, all those overlapping dialogues or spontaneous monologues, but with Altman it is as if he had shot it while sleepwalking on the set. It is also full of wonderful folk songs. In fact I had postponed watching it since I thought it was a backstage musical which would bore me but the songs with their own brand of folk wisdom and dry humour were all magnificent. One doesn't even need to be part of that culture (I am certainly very far from there).. there is something very universal in those songs which moved me and also made me smile. This is really a wonderful film. A fitting swansong for a great master artist.