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I had the privilege of seeing That Evening Sun last night at the
Atlanta Film Festival. Scott Teems, Terrence Berry, Laura Smith, Ray
McKinnon, Walton Goggins, and Larsen Jay were all in attendance and
conducted an excellent Q&A afterwords.
There's so much to this film, so I'll start with the acting and go from there. The movie was so perfectly cast, from Hal Holbrook to Ray McKinnon all the way down to Barlow Jacobs the cab driver - they all were so authentic and believable. There was a lot of very good dialog, but I felt in the moments of quiet grief, contemplation, and observation there was so much more said about the characters.
The story itself was very simple - it had no effect on the world outside of the few characters involved - but again it made the whole situation believable and really struck home with a lot of audience members. The movie is very smart - it doesn't hit you over the head with actors stating "I feel remorse, I feel sad, I feel angry." You get to watch their actions in the present reveal their character and past.
Location was perfectly southern, shot just outside of Knoxville on an old farm, complete with the tenant house seen (although the Q&A explained the actual tenant house was disassembled and rebuilt closer to the main house). There is something about truly southern movies that have a feel like no other with a landscape and sound you can't find in Canada, New Zealand, or LA.
The music, done by Michael Penn and the Drive-By Truckers, completed the whole picture with a quiet southern flavor. Scott Teems explained in the Q&A that he wanted a lot of quiet time for the audience to absorb the story and the location. The music was present, but didn't drive scenes.
All in all, this is one of the best independent films I've seen in recent years, and is instantly one of my favorite films of all time. Please go see this film, you will not regret the time spent!
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.
Abner Meecham,who has been living in a nursing home,is unhappy & wants to live out his final days on the farm land where he had made his living for over 50 years. One day,he packs his things & just walks away from it all. Despite a first failure (where he is picked up by the police & returned back to the home),Abner,undaunted tries again,this time getting further,with the help of a taxi cab driver,to his old farm land. Problem is,the land & the house are now leased by Lonzo Choat,who Abner doesn't like,one bit. Abner takes up in the workers quarters,just off the main house,much to the chagrin of Lonzo, who wants Abner off of his property,a.s.a.p. The following makes for a tense tale,that you know is going to end up badly. Scott Teem ('A Death In The Woods','Roots') directs & writes the screenplay,adapted from the novel, 'I Hate To See The Evening Sun Go Down',by William Gay (the title of which is taken from a line in an old country blues song by Jimmy Rogers). This is a quiet little independent film that in the wrong hands would have turned out to be just another Southern exploitation film (like the kind of films produced by Harry Novak that used to play drive in's back in the 1970's that stereotyped all of the citizens of the South as back woods,slack jawed,inbred,boozing,village idiots that would have sex with farm animals,or family members,or all of the above),but rises above that. The great Hal Holbrook (forever known for his portrayal of Mark Twain on stage & screen)plays Abner,a man who just wants what is rightly his. Ray McKinnon is Lonzo,a man who is just dripping with contempt for Abner. The rest of the cast (unknown by yours truly)turn in shining roles on screen. This is a quiet,little "indie" that drew acclaim at the festivals,but probably won't get much in the way of main steam distribution (I got to see it at one of our cinemas that specializes in foreign & art films),but deserves better. Rated PG-13 by the MPAA,it contains some raunchy language,an unpleasant scene of domestic abuse & some minor adult content.
There is a lot to recommend Scott Teems "That Evening Sun", and I'm
happy I was able to catch a recent screening as a premier event of the
Tallahassee Film Festival. Kindly indulge my regional preference for
literature and the performing arts, but you really can't beat the local
color of the rural South. This melancholy narrative is driven by
simmering grudges,ill-gotten gains, and combustible relationships. It's
as though William Faulker and Flannery O'Connor collaborated on Teem's
script with its southern Gothic allusions and ironic events.
Hal Holbrook as the title character, Abner Meecham, is brilliant with his tenacious attitude, and wizened expressions. He may be old, but he's still capable, resourceful, and completely self-absorbed. Dream sequences and memories allow us to see his softer side as he relives tender moments with his late wife (played by the bewitching Dixie Carter, his real-life wife). He receives little support from his son, a busy attorney well-played by Walton Goggins. Their mutual disaffection is palpable and practically Shakespearean. Abner is not easy to love.
Abner's primary nemesis, Lonzo Choat, is a surly ne'er-do-well who relies as much on his monthly disability check as he does on cheap beer. Ray McKinnon gets a lot of mileage out of Choat's brutal nature and proprietary relationships. His rustic wife (Carrie Preston) and daughter (Mia Wasikowska) each exhibit individual strengths, but can't overcome the overarching power of Lonzo Choat.
Barry Corbin also lends a powerful performance as Abner's long-time neighbor and fellow octogenarian, Thurl Chessor. Abner and Thurl have known each other long enough that conversation is perfunctory, but comfortable. Neither wastes words nor breath, they are comfortable passing time without much fuss or muss, but not too much time lest they seem too dependent, too feminine.
"That Evening Sun" is beautifully shot capturing the simple bucolic beauty of rural Tennessee as kudzu slowly reclaims abandoned barns, and landscapes buzz with the heat and activity of hidden hives and birdsong. The soundtrack is a nod to depression-era country crooners, and Jimmie Rodgers adds the ideal poetic punctuation with his yearning yodels. I will see this one again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
2009 seems to be the year of the cantankerous curmudgeon as far as the
movies are concerned. With Clint Eastwood's 'Gran Torino', Pixar's 'Up'
and now first-time writer-director Scott Teem's 'That Evening Sun', the
focus is on the octogenarian who refuses to be put 'out to pasture' and
take 'one last fling' at life; to prove at the very least that even
elderly people have some dignity in spite of the indifference of an
uncaring, younger generation.
Hal Holbrook lands the the plum part of Abner Meechum, the 80 year old country boy who flees the nursing home where he's been living for the past few months. It seems that his well-intentioned son Paul, a successful lawyer, convinced him to check in at the home after breaking his hip in a fall back at the family farm. Even Abner acknowledges that he would have died had his neighbor not checked in on him after the accident.
But Abner still has some spunk left (unlike the tired and complacent denizens of the nursing home) and manages to make his way back to the family farm (aided by a sympathetic cab driver, initially hired by the nursing home to bring the curmudgeon back). When Abner does arrive home, he's shocked to learn that local ne'er-do-well Lonzo Choat, along with his wife and teenage daughter are living in his house and have a rent with an option to buy agreement with son Paul. Abner has known Choat for years and always regarded him as 'white trash'; we soon learn that Abner's evaluation of Choat is correct: he's been living on disability for years, is now broke and is an alcoholic to boot.
Abner decides to move in to the sharecropper shack on the property. He adopts a dog from kindly neighbor Thurl which infuriates Choat, who can't stand the dog's continuous barking. The conflict escalates when Choat begins whipping his daughter Pamela's date after they have returned from a late night foray; the date manages to escape by driving off the farm in a car and Choat turns his wrath on his wife and daughter, whipping them with the garden hose until Abner puts an end to it by firing a shot in the air. Choat is further infuriated after Abner reports the incident to the local sheriff's office. Although Choat is brought in for questioning, he's ultimately released; it's obvious that the wife and daughter end up refusing to press charges.
While there's tons of sympathy for feisty Abner, ultimately we're asked to view him as a victim. On the other hand, Choat is a despicable charactersomeone who beats his womenfolk and even stoops to killing Abner's dog as payback for being turned into the police. Paul victimizes poor Abner further by assuming that his father is nuts, disbelieving his claims that Choat was guilty of domestic violence (Paul has a deep chip on his shoulderblaming his father for most of his problems and claiming that he also mistreated his now-deceased mother). This supposedly explains why he's not interested in taking any of his father's accusations seriously (you would think that a normal person would be curious as to why Abner has brought his pet to a taxidermist and had it stuffed, but Paul simply blurts out, "we're not going to go there"). Poor Abnerhe's become a symbol of another 'marginalized' minority groupthis time, the elderly!
Another perplexing issue is Paul's willingness to rent the house to the Choats in the first place. Is he totally ignorant of the Choats' reputation in the community? Or does he hate his father so much that he totally rejects his father's opinion about them and willing to give Lonzo a break? Certainly the Choats have a 'history' in the community and Paul cannot be unaware of that. Why rent a house with someone who's on disability who can't really afford it? We never find out why Paul is so altruistic toward Lonzo; certainly he's made no inquiries as to Lonzo's true financial status (and this is a lawyer who's renting the house?). Paul could have made a few inquiries as to Lonzo's character, independent of his father's accusations (Why not talk to the family of Pamela's date?he could have then ascertained that his father was telling the truth about Lonzo). Like Lonzo, Paul is simply not a well-developed enough character.
Despite the imbalance in the narrative between the protagonist and antagonist, Holbrook holds his own amongst the great curmudgeons 'of our day'. It's a nuanced performance that mixes pathos with humor and occasionally offers some real surprises (I was truly thrown for a loop after seeing how Abner responds once Choat kills his pet). Mia Wasikowska is equally fine as the low-key teenager who has poor timing in trying to bond with Abner as she walks in on him at the very moment he's about to kill himself.
Choat does save Abner's life but it isn't enough for us to change our minds about him. The ending to 'That Evening Sun' is ambiguous. Does Abner die at the end and meet his wife in heaven? Or does he recover from the burns he suffered in the fire and pay one last visit to the farm?only to head out to the assisted living facility, suggested by his son. And what of the Choats? Does the son allow them to remain or are they history since they're broke and can't pay the rent?
'That Evening Sun' has received a substantial number of positive accolades. Are they justified? If you look at the plot, in which the deck is stacked in favor of the protagonistwith the antagonists receiving short shrift, then I would be inclined to disagree with all the favorable reviews. But if you focus on Hal Holbrook's character and his performance, then I can understand why the film has garnered such a positive response.
In my opinion column, On San Diego, I offered a brief positive review
of That Evening Sun after viewing it at the San Diego Film Festival.
Those published comments are offered below.
"That Evening Sun," starring Hal Holbrook, shown on Sunday night to a packed house as the last film of the 2009 San Diego Film Festival. Now in his 80s, Holbrook gives a tremendous and subtle performance, as do all of the other actors in this Southern Gothic set in Tennessee: Walton Goggins, Mia Wasikowska, Carrie Preston and Ray McKinnon. With a screenplay written by Scott Teems, like fine red wine, well made and maintained, every character of the movie is developed and complex -- even the barking dog!
The tension between characters, circumstances and passions makes this film a rarity, genuinely gripping from scene to scene and unpredictable to the end. The sound track is beautiful and delicately augments the emotional tension as the film wonderfully plays against the painterly rustic sharecropper house interior, forest, sunset sky and fantastically grizzled faces of authentically rendered people pursuing their respective deep, heartfelt aspirations. Like a Henry James novella, the film is underlain with ambiguity and uncertainty, empathy and shifting sympathies that will provoke conversation; one might pronounce it a good "date movie," with something for both men and women. A gem, this film is the kind one may only see at a film festival.
San Diegans were lucky to be among the first to see the final cut of this fine work. Fortunately, come Thanksgiving time, 2009, "That Evening Sun" will be seen in limited release in Los Angeles and New York theatres. Perchance it will also return to San Diego?
This movie came from nowhere for me here in Australa. Its a little middle-American indie film that I had never heard of until I saw it advertised on my upcoming orders list. I just finished watching it and it is a fantastic character study. It stars Hal Holbrook in one of the finest performances in his long and successful career. He plays an old man who walks out of his nursing-home and returns to the farm he owned for over 50 years only to find it occupied by new tenants. Being stubborn he squats in the old worker's quarters and wages a personal war against the new family. From there the film becomes a real examination of this old man's mind. He is at the narrow end of life and has nothing to show for it. Everything he knew was taken away and he is doomed to live the rest of his life with regret about many things in his life. Unbeknownst to him, much of his traits are reflected in his newly appointed enemy. Its a slow drama with moments of tension. The performances are exceptional and the relationship he has with his old neighbour is wonderful (some of the best scenes). Well worth a look.
What a film.! Anyone who has experienced elderly members of the family
being stubborn, or old fashioned without obvious reason, then this film
will ring true.
Although members of our family/community age, and reach the final stages of their life does not make them an outcast, it does not make them less worthy of ourselves.
This film make the valid point that, yes, life does indeed go on, but at the same time, memories still live too, and if someone is still breathing the free air we all breath today, then they are still entitled to live out their life, and spend their living days how they see fit.
Without spoiling this film, or should I say without giving out any spoilers, basically, if you have come to that stage in your life where you have had to make the very difficult decision to put your mother, or father in a care home, watch this film.! Although your father, or mother maybe aging, and to you, look somewhat out of control, they are now, you should be listening to them more carefully, even muffled speech, of rambled they may sound, listen to them, memories live on.
This film is all about pride, being faithful to ones past, mistakes, and choices. One may make path to their own siblings which gives them the job of good fortune, but at the same time, they question you when your old, and in many peoples eyes "Past it". This film opens the eyes of the unforgiving.!
I cried watching this film, and Im 40 years young. Maybe I related to this film more than most, but at the same time, I had to write about this film, and how it impacted myself alone.
Enjoy, its a great piece of film making, and Hal, is at his best in this. We all remember him from his earlier pieces, usually in a courtroom.
An aging Tennessee farmer returns to his homestead and must confront a
family betrayal, the reappearance of an old enemy, and the loss of his
This is the perfect example of how to write an old bull can against the young bull one. Holebrook's character doesn't want trouble, just his pride and the right to go on living the way he once did. He doesn't have much left, but pride. The movie does a great job of making us care for Holebrook, something that was hard to pull off consistently. Hal Holebrook is magnificent, and Oscar worthy here in his portrayal of Abner Meecham. It was hard to pull off, but Holebrook manages to maintain likability along with his grouchy, potentially off-putting role. There's never a moment where we don't sympathize with him, even when he pushes the limits, we manage to emphasize with his actions. I've not seen Holebrook perform a better role than this one. Ray McKinnon is excellent as the hot-shot antagonist, wanting to take over the farm. You'll hate him, and possibly even understand his actions in some cases. Walter Goggins is very good as the ungrateful son of Holebrook's, he did well.
Bottom line. The Sundance Film Festival struck gold with this one, and you will too. A must see
9 ½ 10
Scott Teems wrote and directed this touching movie called " That Evening Sun. " It's tells the story of an aging Tennessee farmer, Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) who was accidentally injured at home and put into a convalescent home. Unfortunately for him, Abner awoke to learn his son Paul (Walton Groggins) had committed him to this home for the duration of his life. Refusing to stay, he returns to his farm where Meecham discovers his family farm has been leased out to an old adversary Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon) who tries to drive him off the disputed farm. Because of the law, the two now face an unresolved issue which is complicated by the alcoholic owner and his frightened family. The story is dramatically poignant and with the characters including the dog, bonding closely, becomes sentimentally lasting. Barry Corbin plays next door neighbor Thurl Chessor and becomes a credit to the overall story. ***
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