That Evening Sun
It isn’t difficult to understand that ultimately the entertainment industry which encompasses film and television are businesses that are obligated to their shareholders and investors to show a profit on that all important bottom line. The factor that all too often gets lost in the shuffle is that these venues are also vital forms of artistic expression. While those big budget spectaculars laden with elaborate special effects can cost more than the gross national product of a small country their return can be measured close to a $billion. It is reassuring that there are still distributors that provide film makers the venue to express themselves as story tellers in the good old fashion human sense. In the midst of all the explosions, far away planets and creatures of sheer imagination a little film comes around armed only with an incredible depth of character and unmistakable humanity. The film is ‘That Evening Sun’ where the hero isn’t some super buff young man but a man who has lived through over eighty summers. As my generation moves further and further away from the prime target demographic it is comforting to see a broader range of the human experience represented in film. This movie is simple in its presentation providing a façade that supports a story of complex human emotions and interpersonal interactions. This is not the kind of movie that will thrill its audience or pin you to the edge of your seat but it is one that will evoke a deep, perhaps profound emotional response that you will not soon forget. While other films showcase the remarkable progress made in special effects where the imagination can take flight in the program of the computer this film will remind us all the greatest aspect of cinema is not the technology but the men and women who completely give themselves over to a role becoming their character through a diligent application of their chosen profession, acting.
The film was written and directed by Scott Teems based on the short story short story "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down" by William Gay. This is the first feature length work for Teems after warming up on a couple of shorts. For something that is basically a freshman opus the control that is exhibited in the construction of this script is amazing. One thing that has to be said about Teems is he has an intrinsic feel for the media he has chosen. Some directors were born to pit his actors against a green screen adding the details in post production. Teems has the same natural grasp on the use of real sets populated by living actors. The story is one that is conducive to providing a setting for some of the best performances I have witnessed in many years. Those out there more accustomed to the fast paced action oriented flicks might be pleasantly surprised at the amount of drama, drive and tension that regular people can generate.
Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) has lived all his eighty years in Tennessee working his family farm. In recent years he has been in elder care facility placed there by his son Paul (Walton Goggins), a successful lawyer, who obtained durable power of attorney over his father. Abner didn’t have much that he liked about the nursing home and decides to up and leave so he managers to pick up a taxi ride back home. All Abner wanted was to live out his final days in peace in familiar surroundings. Unfortunately, when he gets back to the place he called home for so many years he discovers that his son has leased the place right out from under him. Making matters worse the new tenant is Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon), a member of a family Abner has been feuding with for as long as anyone can remember. Abner is joined in his low opinion of the Choat family by old friend and fellow curmudgeon, Thurl Chessor (Barry Corbin). Abner has his own plans to follow made a bit more possible by how preoccupied his son was with a big case. While Paul is busy berating people over his ever present cell phone dear old dad covertly takes up residence in a deserted old sharecropper’s snack near his former home. Generational and familiar lines are breeched when Abner is visited by the young daughter of his nemesis, Pamela (Mia Wasikowska).she tries her best to ignore his sully manner but the old man just continues on course. He goes so far as to bring in a loud dog when Pamela innocently mentions her father is disturbed by barking dogs. It turns out that Choat has his own tale of woe; he is on disability, alcoholic and unable to meet his financial obligations. One technique that is better in execution that it sounds is the contrast of two women; the late Ellen Meecham played by Holbrook’s real life wife, Dixie Carter and the perennial suffering Ludie Choat portrayed by Carrie Preston who is well known for her role as the feisty redhead waitress in HBO’s ‘True Blood’. I have seen this method used numerous times to associate two distinct time periods in a person’s life but usually the results are mediocre. Teems is able to pull it off with a precision combination of directorial style and steering a well seasoned cast to giving great performances.
Speaking of great performances this is a true showcase featuring the incredible talent of one of American actors. Holbrook has been carefully honing his craft for longer than most of the audience has been alive. For over half a century he has been steadily providing cinema and television with some of their most memorable performances. In recent years his career has been experiencing a revival as he began to explore roles like this; strong willed older men. He plays Abner as a man out of place in his own time. His son barely sees him as a human being, is a problem that has to be filed away. The prejudices and hatred Abner experiences is deep seated and not easily displaced but thanks to the youthful exuberance of the pretty Pamela he begins to budge. Mia Wasikowska is rapidly become the ‘IT’ girl in films. Well known for the titular role in the recent Tim Burton remake of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ it seems that Ms Wasikowska is the current daring of the Indy film world. in any case when you get tired of green screen magic and explosions settle down to some home spun quality.