Saturday, November 7, 2009

Movie with Abe: That Evening Sun

That Evening Sun
Directed by Scott Teems
Released November 6, 2009

In the first few minutes of “That Evening Sun,” Michael Penn’s beautiful score plays as Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) stares blankly ahead, watching his life go by as he is forced to deal with the mundane, repetitive nature of his existence in a retirement home. Not a word is spoken before Meecham decides to pack up and hit the road, determined to seek some sort of meaning in his life. Meecham is a solitary man, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to live out the rest of his life on someone else’s terms. Meecham returns to the only place he has ever known as home – his farm – intent on reclaiming his land and enjoying whatever time he has left doing what he loves best. He’s shocked and dismayed to find that, in the short time he’s been gone, someone else has taken over his property, and they’re about as eager to give it up as he is.

Meecham is one stubborn old man, and he makes a marvelous protagonist. His distinct distaste for the change and youth is comparable to that of Clint Eastwood’s prejudice-prone Walt Kowalski in “Gran Torino,” and he possesses the same ageless charisma. Holbrook (“Into the Wild”) is simply astonishing in his performance as Meecham, imbuing him with an unwavering, angry stare and a subtle smile just as recognizable as Kowalski’s signature disdainful growl. The 84-year-old Holbrook is fully on his game and creates a wonderfully sympathetic character out of the grumpy farmer. There’s one mesmerizing scene in which he sings “I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down” in a quiet, off-key manner that just demonstrates his love for his property and the life he’s always led. It’s a magnificently powerful moment that’s perfectly underplayed by the terrific Holbrook.

It’s particularly breathtaking to see the elder veteran actor onscreen opposite 19-year-old newcomer Mia Wasikowska (“In Treatment”), who lights up the screen every time she appears. The two represent radically different generations, and seeing their characters bond is wondrous. The very chance for two such diverse performers to share scenes is excellent. This is essentially the culmination of Holbrook’s career while Wasikowska is just starting out, and it’s as if Holbrook has given Wasikowska unspoken advice and transferred his age-earned knowledge about the craft to inspire Wasikowska to a bright and beautiful future. They’re not the only superb talent among the cast. Two TV actors, Carrie Preston (“True Blood”) and Walton Goggins (“The Shield”) enhance the film, in addition to a volatile, self-destructive performance from Ray McKinnon and reliable support from Barry Corbin as Meecham’s only real friend. It’s a small, tight-knit ensemble that functions amazingly to create an extraordinarily real feel for the film.

“That Evening Sun” is, in essence, a film about one person’s struggle to retain a sense of what is his, and in that respect it’s a very singular, personal journey. There are several major supporting characters, played by the aforementioned performers, but it’s really Meecham’s story. Less than ten people even utter dialogue at any point throughout the film, and the result is a revelatory chance to get to know Meecham and see how his whole life has shaped the way he acts in his final years. The settings are also few since Meecham literally decides to walk back to his farm, miles away, from his retirement home. The haunting score represents Meecham’s lifelong journey, and it’s wonderfully matched to the nostalgic tone of the film. “That Evening Sun” is a meaningful experience that captures a Southern sensibility and the soul of one man, and it’s a great, gorgeous film.


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