That Evening Sun starts out as if it had been plucked from a Sundance time capsule circa the early 1990s: an elderly person raging against the indignities of old age, a rural setting, some low-key Southern humor.
But at some point, That Evening Sun, opening in limited release on Friday (11.06.09), changes tone and takes on a Faulknerian cast. It becomes edgier, a little more dangerous, a little less predictable. Yet writer-director Scott Teems avoids the pitfalls - the easy tragedy of senseless violence, for example - to find something more complex and fulfilling.
Teems is fortunate to have the marvelously resourceful Hal Holbrook to play Abner Meecham, in what, with a little luck, could be an Oscar-nominated performance. Abner, first seen withering with boredom in a nursing home, packs a bag and lights out, eventually catching a ride to Ackerman's Field, Tenn., the hamlet he once called home.
But he finds that his farm and farmhouse are now occupied by the family of a local ne'er-do-well, Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon), for whom Abner has particular disdain. Worse, Lonzo has a lease-to-own deal, worked out with Abner's lawyer son, Paul (Walton Goggins).
Abner is determined to get his house back - so he moves into what was the sharecropper's house on the property and begins needling Lonzo. He visits an elderly former neighbor (Barry Corbin) and comes back with a dog that's prone to barking - then teaches it to bark when he tells it not to. He counsels Lonzo's unhappy teenage daughter (Mia Wasikowska) - and when Lonzo beats her after catching her with a boyfriend, Abner pulls a gun on him, then calls the sheriff to report him.
Films like this tend to mythologize a character like Abner, ennobling his quest and demonizing his opponents. That Evening Sun, from a story by William Gay, turns in a different direction, offering the possibility that the unreasonable one may in fact be Abner - that, rather than reclaiming a piece of life that has been unjustly wrested from his grasp, he is destructively clinging to a past that no longer exists, at a cost to those around him that he doesn't seem to recognize.
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