Copernicus at SBIFF: THAT EVENING SUN
THAT EVENING SUN
It is the year of old codgers desperately clinging to their homes. First we had the elderly escapades of UP, where an old man is so attached to his home that he takes it with him to South America. THAT EVENING SUN deals with the same central dilemma, but in other ways it is the exact opposite of UP (maybe they should have called it DOWN). UP is a heartwarming cartoon adventure fantasy, while THAT EVENING SUN is an impressively realistic indie character piece. Here the protagonist doesn’t seek adventure – on the contrary, he just wants to live out the rest of his years in his own house. But he can’t let go of it as easily as a balloon, and instead the weight of the past may ultimately be his undoing
The setup is simple: Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) has recently moved to a retirement home, but he can’t stand it and escapes back to the farm he’s owned for decades. There he’s shocked to find his house occupied by the family of his shiftless nemesis, Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon). It turns out Abner’s son has rented out and is in the process of selling the property. Abner’s having none of it, and decides to squat out in the sharecropper’s cabin until he can find a way to get his home back. Lonzo’s daughter, Pamela (Mia Wasikowska) befriends Abner and brings him food, which only infuriates her father more. What follows is an ever-escalating standoff that builds to a powerful conclusion.
As someone born and raised in the Southeast, it really pisses me off that Hollywood almost never represents the South accurately. Take TRUE BLOOD. Most of the actors have terrible accents, it is clearly shot on a set rather than on location, and there is just this sense of condescension that pervades the HBO show.
THAT EVENING SUN gets the South right. That dimension elevates the film from interesting indie character piece to rare gem. Writer-director Scott Teems reminds me of David Gordon Green for his ability to instill an overpowering sense of place.
Almost all of the cast and crew are from the Southeast, and it shows. The accents are perfect, and the setting is authentic, having been shot on location in Tennessee. Hal Holbrook delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the charmingly stubborn Abner. He carries the film, made all the more difficult by the fact that many of his scenes are alone (or only with a dog). But it is his scenes with his fellow old-timer and neighbor, played by Barry Corbin, that are my favorites. They are just two guys chewing the fat on a porch, but between their no-nonsense dispositions, their sadness at the way things have turned out, and their resignation to their waning influence, their conversations are fascinating. I could watch an entire film of just the two of them.
But an even bigger surprise is Ray McKinnon (the reverend from DEADWOOD!), playing the asshole neighbor and antagonist Choat (what a great name). He’s a lazy, wife-beating son of a bitch, and he commands his family like a Biblical patriarch. Still, despite all his failings, he’s trying to better himself. He isn’t pure villain, but we also aren’t quite sure whether we want to see him dead or redeemed. I’ve met plenty of guys like that in the rural South but I’ve never seen it played so convincingly on screen. It may well be the best performance I’ve seen all year.
Another surprise is Mia Wasikowsk, as daughter Pamela Choat. I was stunned to find out she was not from the South, but instead is from Australia. She’s playing Alice in Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and while I planned to see that anyway, now I can’t wait for it.
It is a damn shame that independent film distribution is in such a sorry state. In the 60s and 70s, since Southerners weren’t being well served by Hollywood, they often took it upon themselves to make and distribute movies regionally. Many of these films are either obscure or all but lost, but I’ve lucky enough to have had an education from Quentin Tarantino when he’s brought some to Austin. THAT EVENING SUN is doing something similar -- after wrapping up a year on the festival circuit, one of the producers told me it is now playing in various theaters around the Southeast. If you have the chance, it is well worth your time and support to check it out in the theater. If you aren’t so lucky, give it a look on DVD.
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Feb. 22, 2010, 9:39 a.m. CST
In INTO THE WILD.God bless his geezery ass,still acting.
Feb. 22, 2010, 11:05 a.m. CST
Absolutely no BAFTA coverage again on AICN, the Saturns get more of a look in
Feb. 22, 2010, 1:58 p.m. CST
This film has been grossly overlooked. Patterson Hood's original song should've taken home an oscar, no contest.
Feb. 22, 2010, 3:05 p.m. CST
baftas. its has been doing so for years and its not as if the baftas are pure just for british films anymore. the hurt locker swept the board. i dont think that harry cares unless the films are outside the mainstream. but he all but ignored the bafta tribute to doug slocombe. nearly 100 years old and in 1921 in his family's flat in paris he was in the same room with james. what a life. and that was not covered here. if someone says to me nobody cares. what is the point in continuing with this website.
Feb. 22, 2010, 3:36 p.m. CST
It appears from your description that this is not based on the 1931 William Faulkner short story of the same title, which refers to a popular black spiritual that begins, "Lordy, how I hate to see that evening sun go down." It has some of the same characters that appear in that amazing novel THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Totally different plotline from what you describe, though.
Feb. 22, 2010, 3:58 p.m. CST
it's not Faulkner, but based on a short story by William Gay. Google him sometime, he has quite a story and his work is the real deal.
Feb. 22, 2010, 4:19 p.m. CST
I've seen this movie three times now, and it just gets better with age, just like Hal Holbrook
Feb. 23, 2010, 5:32 p.m. CST
I Had the privilege of seeing That Evening Sun months ago and I loved it. I'm glad it's finally getting out there a little more. This was one of the top films I saw last year and both Hal Holbrook and Ray McKinnon deserve to be nominated for their work here. Oh and Barry Corbin is fantastic as always!
Feb. 24, 2010, 8:13 a.m. CST
by The Tao of Joe
I've seen this film. And in terms of portraying the South, it's more in line with nearly every other country fried hillbilly drama from the 90's than anything new or exciting by folks like Green or Ramin Bahrani's "Goodbye Solo." The South has changed a lot, and in ways left the makers of "That Evening Sun" were completely oblivious.
Feb. 24, 2010, 11:09 a.m. CST
While I agree that this is not like a David Gordan Green film, I whole heartedly disagree with you chalking this up to just another "country fried hillbilly drama". This film is a lot deeper then that and if you didn't see that I suggest you watch it again.
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