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Beautifully measured performance by the great Hal Holbrooke
Based on the short story "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down" by William Gay, "That Evening Sun" presents us with an epic battle of wills between two equally immutable forces fighting over the same piece of land. The property in question is a rundown farm in rural Tennessee owned by Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrooke), an octogenarian who's just walked away from the retirement home his son (Walter Goggins) placed him in after a serious fall a few months back. When Abner gets back to his farm, he is stunned to find that - thanks to a deal brokered by his lawyer son the place has been signed over to a white-trash, ne'er-do-well by the name of Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon), who now lives there with his wife (Carrie Preston) and sixteen-year-old daughter (Mia Wasikowska), with whom Abner establishes an uneasy but generally tender relationship.
Scott Teem's screenplay is multi-faceted and complex in the way it develops its characters. For instance, many of the very same qualities that make Abner so appealing to the audience his tenacity, his commitment to principle, his uncompromising willingness to call things as he sees them are also what make him a hard person to deal with for those who are actually a part of his life. This is especially the case with his son, who though he obviously loves his father and wants to do right by him, harbors a lifelong resentment against the old man for his harsh treatment of both himself and his now-deceased mother while he was growing up.
To a somewhat lesser extent, Lonzo is also portrayed in a three-dimensional light. Though he is an alcoholic, a wastrel, and a man prone to acts of violence against both animals and members of his own family, there is a sense that he is genuinely trying to get his life together by earning an honest living and finally being a decent provider for his loved ones.
The movie really seems to understand the tragedy of old age of feeling as if everything you ever called your own is now being taken away from you and nobody around you seems to care. In fact, many of those people despite, in some cases, their possible good intentions - are proactively involved in bringing that outcome about. The movie also touches upon that root and highly American value of property ownership, and the willingness to stop at virtually nothing to ensure one's hold on one's land.
"That Evening Sun" is what is called in the trade an "actors' picture," and, indeed, it is the performances that are of primary interest here. Holbrooke has always been a tremendous actor, but here he is positively transcendent as Abner, a crusty old coot who is so much more than just a crusty old coot. Goggins, the brilliant star of "The Shield" and "Justified" and a co-producer of this film, is also excellent as Paul Meecham, a role quite different from the ones in the aforementioned works. And McKinnon, Preston ("True Blood"), and Wasikowska ("Alice in Wonderland," "The Kids are All Right") are all wonderful as well.
The tone of the film is contemplative and muted, and Teems' direction is rich in atmosphere and setting.
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