A favorite on the film festival circuit where it picked up awards for its richly authentic Southern gothic flavor, even though writer/director Scott Teems' That Evening Sun shares the same title name as a vintage tale by William Faulkner, this atmospheric work is based on the short story, I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down penned by William Gay in 2002.
However, despite a powerfully tough but tender tour de force portrayal by actor Hal Holbrook who continues to dazzle audiences following his Oscar nominated “comeback” turn of sorts in Sean Penn's Into the Wild, Teems' compelling yet under-developed endeavor never fully lets us forget its roots as a piece of short fiction.
As much as I applaud those who choose to work outside the rigid confines of a traditional three act structure wherein we can guess precisely when a new problem will arise simply by viewing the hand on our watch rather than what's on the screen, unfortunately with one dilemma spread across an overly long 109 minutes, there just isn't enough plot involved to support the running time or the tremendously talented ensemble cast.
Initially reminiscent of Sling Blade given its old-fashioned approach to story building by first endearing us to both our unorthodox hero a.k.a. the film's meandering main character, Sun introduces us to nursing home escapee Abner Meecham (Holbrook) who returns to the farm he'd run for decades before a broken hip led to his son's decision to push the elderly widower into assisted living.
Startled to discover a teen (Alice in Wonderland actress Mia Wasikowska) sunbathing on his lawn, he's even more disheartened to learn from the girl's mother (Carrie Preston) that his son Paul (Walton Goggins) has leased the property to Abner's sleazy enemy, Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon).
With no intention of turning the land back over to Abner and an option to buy his home out from under him, as far as the law is concerned, Lonzo is the one holding all the cards. Mentally, however, the lazy drunk whom Abner dubs a stereotypical “redneck” is no match for the willful determination of the original owner of the property.
Moving into the tenant shack on the Tennessee farm and biding his time until he can figure out a way to make his way back into the main house, Abner engages in a psychological standoff with his enemy Lonzo which comes to a head on one swelteringly sweaty night when Abner has no choice but to fire his pistol in the air to stop Lonzo from beating his daughter with a garden hose.
And sure enough, just like the old screenwriting adage that if you see a gun in the first act of a film, it'll go off in the third act, the sight and sound of that bullet flying through the air serves as the movie's own police siren, alerting us to the danger of what's to come.
Dedicated to Holbrook's real-life late wife Dixie Carter who passed away after the completion of the film, appearing onscreen in effective flashbacks as Abner's beloved deceased bride, Sun never loses the multi-layer texture of its literary source material.
Moreover, by featuring exquisite cinematography by Rodney Taylor, Sun opts for tender visual poetry and characters who show their true colors with each passing scene instead of worrying about a few tiny logic gaps or answering some major plot questions that intelligent viewers no doubt may pose aloud within the first half hour of the film.
While the polished production values make for a visually intoxicating experience that satisfying transfers those watching to the location onscreen, ultimately even the uniformly superb cast (including MVPs Holbrook and McKinnon) and commendable cinematic confidence of Teems can't hide the fact that That Evening Sun should've gone down long before the final credits roll onscreen.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.