That Evening Sun

January, 2010, Drama

Directed by:Scott Teems

Starring:Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon, Walton Goggins, Mia Wasikowska, Carrie Preston, and Barry Corbin

 

 

 

The shadow of novelist Flannery O’Conner permeates the directorial debut of screenwriter Scott Teems, who adapted this examination of loneliness from a short story written by William Gay. Working with a cast headed by Hal Holbrook, Teems quietly places them in a situation which bristles with tension and then allows the storyline’s slow pace to produce a meditation on old age, family roots and loves honored more in memory than in practice. There are no heroes here - - only painfully captured characters struggling to make sense of what’s going on around them.

 

Octogenarian Abner Meecham (Holbrook) has been tucked away in a nursing home not too far from the rural Tennessee farm on which he labored, built a marriage and raised his son. Paul Meecham (Walton Goggins) has developed a successful law practice and maneuvered his father off the family farm and effectively out of Paul’s life. But the proud, opinioned Abner can’t stand the life of inactivity into which he’s been shoe-horned and returns home only to discover that Paul, using his father’s power of attorney, has leased the farm (with an option to buy) to Lonzo Choat, (Ray McKinnon) a slovenly ne’r do-well who insists that disability payments from an old injury will provide sufficient cash to complete the purchase and allow him to earn a livelihood for himself, his wife and 16 year old daughter.

 

Appalled at Choat’s presence on the farm, Abner takes up residence in an old slave shack near the main house and sets about the task of driving the Choats off what Abner believes is still his land. Openly contemptuous of a man he believes to be an interloping inferior, condescending about his hillbilly lifestyle and offended by the abuse Choat heaps on his wife and daughter, Abner escalates his attempts at eviction until obsession threatens to physically damage himself and the farm he spent his life developing…

 

In Abner, 85-year old Holbrook has the kind of leading role which functions as the capstone to a career which in his case contains an astonishing 122 credits since its beginnings in 1954. The actor fashions an old man who’s judgmental, narrow-minded and chivalrous all at once, as frightened about the mistakes in his own past as he is disconsolate about his failure to instill in his only child some faint appreciation of the values which fashioned the home in which he was raised. Holbrook’s efforts at the softly rounded texture of a rural Tennessee farmer remain uneven throughout, but the alternating waves of menace, perplexity and candor Abner radiates have given Holbrook (nearly always a supporting performer in both film and television) a “star turn” that he’s made his own. An Oscar nomination for Best Actor is not out of the question…

 

Powerful Holbrook’s performance may be, but it’s matched (and at times surpassed) by McKinnon’s Choate, who comes full blown out of the pages of Tobacco Road - - an literate, churlish boor whose sexist view of women and aversion to sustained work make him almost as easy for the audience to despise as Abner does. But beneath the dirty finger nails, lank un-combed hair and baggy, soiled clothes lies a man whose basic instincts might just be more high-minded than those to be found behind Abner’s cleaner clothes and more polished rhetoric. In the end, the losses both suffer have far more to do with a lonely old man’s vituperative attitude towards life than Choat’s whiny self-indulgence.

 

Cinematographer Rodney Taylor films this desperate struggle with in a slow, matter-of-fact fashion; there are no gimmicky shots, no “sophisticated” visual touches to detract from the leisurely pace with which Meecham and Choat circle, parry and thrust at each other. From the soft noise of crickets on the soundtrack to the nondescript wardrobes of the characters to the simple furniture in Abner’s old house, Evening Sun celebrates the lives of its working class characters with quiet dignity. Veteran character Barry Corbin lends his typical authenticity to Abner’s next door neighbor Thurl, while Carrie Preston infuses Choat’s wife Ludie with just the right blend of obedience to the rules of blue collar culture and weary resignation to the limited horizons it forces on wives and daughters.

 

The Verdict? A thoughtful and sobering reflection on life’s inevitable decline in “the golden years”. Not for those who want their movie-going experience to be light and cheerful.

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