Tuesday, January 26, 2010

That Evening Sun

That Evening Sun is a true diamond in the rough: a masterfully-woven tale of the American South. The characters in That Evening Sun are as believable as any I’ve seen, and at the heart of it all stands an Oscar-worthy performance from veteran Hal Holbrook. This film seems destined to fly under the radar, but positive word of mouth should help extends its reach. I doubt that anyone who sees it will quickly forget this riveting story of anger, ownership, and the agony of aging.

Hal Holbrook gives the performance of his film career as Abner Meecham, a retired farmer who spends his days in a retirement home. Determined to regain his old life, Meecham escapes the nursing facility and returns to his farm, only to find that his son has leased the property to the Choat family. Meecham takes up residence in the guest house, demanding that Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon) take his wife and daughter and get off his land. The two men lock horns over who has the right to the property; Choat fights to provide for his family, and Meecham fights to hold on to the life he feels slipping away.

Like most great stories about the South, That Evening Sun centers around land (throughout the film, I heard Thomas Mitchell’s voice from Gone With the Wind: “Land’s the only thing that matters; it’s the only thing that lasts.”). Land ownership has always been the American Dream, and That Evening Sun wonderfully depicts that strange period of time when land passes between owners. The farm is a crucial piece of the identity of both men; one man sees the farm as his future, while the other sees it as a link to the past. The legal right lies with Lonzo Choat, but neither Meecham nor Choat have too much respect for the rules.

Hal Holbrook immediately sells the story as the grumpy old man refusing to go quietly. His performance doesn’t stand out in a big, attention-grabbing way; it just feels authentic, and that goes for the rest of the cast as well. Instead of focusing on the performances, I was completely absorbed by the story and setting. Ray McKinnon had a bit role as a football coach in The Blind Side, but I had no idea how capable he was before this. He gives Lonzo Choat so many dimensions: he’s fierce, pathetic, desperate, and dangerous.

Before any image appears onscreen, the chirping of cicadas fills the theater, and the atmosphere only thickens from there. That Evening Sun completely transported me to rural Tennessee. There are plenty of “throwaway” shots of the breeze blowing through the tall grass, of wasps dancing, of windmills turning, but these little details go a long way. The hot, humid days contribute to the drama, bringing everyone’s hopes and fears to a boil.

That Evening Sun marks an impressive debut for writer/director Scott Teems. He adapted the screenplay from a short story, and he populated his script with rounded, multi-dimensional characters. This story doesn’t have good guys or bad guys; every character has varying degrees of both qualities. You may decide that some characters are more respectable than others, but those decisions will be your own. That Evening Sun addresses change, loss, legacy and aging and does so with subtlety and grace. When the evening sun goes down and the credits roll, the story has ended perfectly and gone everywhere that it needed to go. Lovers of quiet, character-driven drama would do well to follow That Evening Sun into the backwoods of the South.

Click here to view the trailer.

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: Rated R for brief strong language, some violence, sexual content and thematic elements.

That Evening Sun would likely bore most kids, and the language (including an F-word or two) and anger between the two men would be a bit much. I think most teenagers could handle it. The sexual content and violence aren’t graphic by any stretch, and the film could open interesting discussions about aging. The trailer gives a good indication of the pervasive levels of drama and tension.

1 comment:

  1. I'll check that one out. Hal Holbrook broke my heat in "Into the Wild". Another great film that is in the same vein as this one is "Goodbye Solo"; also an amazing film about aging and loss.