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I've been looking forward to "That Evening Sun" for a while now, and not just because it was shot in the county and surrounding towns where I live here in Tennessee.
My anticipation was largely because of Hal Holbrook, an iconic performer I have seen in his one-man "Mark Twain Tonight!" stage show, and who appears in occasional guest shots on TV where things must move very fast, and less often in film, where things are allowed to proceed at a more measured pace.
I was not disappointed, the character study of Abner Meechum, the refugee from an old folks' home and renegade on his own property is rich, complex, and satisfying throughout. Admittedly it may not be a big stretch for Holbrook to play a cranky 80-year-old, but that doesn't lessen the impact of the performance at all.
Surrounding him is a cast of surprisingly strong players: the antagonist Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon) is an especially worthy and believable opponent, and supporting cast Pamela and Ludie Choat (Mia Wasikowska and Carrie Preston) likewise hit just the right notes, tugging this farm county family drama at precisely the right pace. I especially enjoyed Barry Corkin, perfect in the Wilfred Brimley-esquire good neighbor role, and a special mention for the cameo by Dixie Carter, Hal Holbrook's wife in the movie as well as in real life.
Where I saw the film, at a packed 1pm matinée, the audience laughed at several of the moments, self-reflective as they were of Tennessee rural life. I don't know that they would garner that kind of introspective appreciation in other parts of the country, but here, people know their country folk and can laugh with, rather than at them.
"That Evening Sun" is a simple yarn: Abner tires of life in a retirement home and returns to the farm he and his deceased wife occupied for most of their lives, only to find it occupied by a neer-do-well, but one with a property lease Abner's "guardian son" has approved. The story is more than the tug-of-war between owner and lessor, it is between hard-working- older and layabout younger, and between lives at noon and the sundown that inevitably follows. Taken from William Gay's short stories of Southern life, "I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down," it's the unraveling of a proud man in the twilight, as his own sun is setting, and his fight with the oncoming night.
Hal Holbrook is a treasure. So is this film. It's Indie with a capital "I", an armful of festival awards, and, one hopes, a long run ahead.
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