Tuesday, March 1, 2011

That Evening Sun

You may wonder why we don’t review every movie here at Media Missionary School. In fact, we’re rather selective. There are plenty of other sites that review major Hollywood films. Our mission is to find the hidden gems, the small quiet movies that often go unnoticed. We are especially interested in movies that have a spiritual perspective on life.

That Evening Sun qualifies on all counts. You probably haven’t heard of it. It received practically no press or recognition. It made only $281,000 at the box office. I checked two local video stores and could find only one copy. So it’s not going to be easy to find, but it will be worth your effort. That Evening Sun is based on a 2002 short story, I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down, by William Gay. That Evening Sun is a rich, atmospheric drama with outstanding production values. This is independent filmmaking at its best.

The producers made every penny count and created a true gem. The story features the veteran actor Hal Holbrook as Abner Meecham, an aging, discarded Tennessee farmer. Apparently, Meecham has been relegated to the old folks home. Meecham decided to hit the road and head back to his old homestead. He wants to live out his remaining days on his terms as he faces the setting of the evening sun. Meecham is a hard, bitter, and judgmental old man, who has many unresolved issues. When he returns to his farm, he finds his old nemesis, Lonzo Choat and his family, living in his house.

Meecham’s son, Paul (Walton Goggines), has leased the property to Lonzo with an option to buy. Both men are on a collision course as Abner has decided to stay on his land in the old tenement shack next to the residence. Adding a voice of reason is Lonzo’s wife, Ludie (Carrie Preston), who is the only one that can see things clearly. Caught in the middle of the conflict is Lonzo’s 16 year-old daughter, Pamela, played by Mia Wasikowska. When she is beaten by her father, Abner comes to her defense. Now the game is on. The stakes are high as both characters enter into potentially deadly conflict.

But, like most good films, That Evening Sun, is more than a story about who is the rightful owner of the property or rather or not it’s necessary that Abner live in the retirement home. Even Abner describes himself to be an 80 year-old man old with a bum hip and weak heart. This is not your stereotypical grumpy, old man flick. This film explores the issue of whether or not we should get to live out our golden years on our terms or somebody else’s.

Beyond the end-of-life issue are more compelling questions. That’s what makes this film so remarkable and memorable. Can Abner face his past mistakes and regrets. Can he reconcile his relationship with his son? Why do dreams of his deceased wife haunt him?

That Evening Sun has exceptional writing and depth. All of the characters are richly drawn and fleshed out. Even the character of Lonzo, which could have been your typical antagonist, is much more than that. His character is obviously flawed; however, the writers have found a way where Lonzo can also express the better side of his humanity. Just like in real life, the characters in this film are a composite of both good and bad.

We want to root for Abner. But there are times when we feel he deserves what he gets. He seems inflexible and uncaring as he calls Lonzo white trash to his face. Hal Holbrook, who is also in the twilight of his own life, is brilliant in the role of Abner. He has both the strength and vulnerability that is needed to make this character believable.

That Evening Sun is as good as any independent film you will find this year. I would put it in the league of The Winter’s Bone, which was nominated for Best Picture at the 2010 Academy Awards. Frankly, I don’t see any difference between the two films. Why does one film receive recognition and a nomination while the other film is mostly forgotten? I don’t have an answer to that. But it does prove a point. There are many outstanding films made every year that deserve a much larger audience. This one is worth finding. Do yourself a favor and put the effort forth to see That Evening Sun.

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