Judge Bryan Byun once tried to be a farmer, but couldn't find a pair of overalls that matched his top hat and spats.
I worked too hard. And too long. I ain't goin' down without a fight.
There aren't many actors like Hal Holbrook left in American cinema—men whose very faces embody a unique sort of American presence, whose homespun images are so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness that, if we're not careful, we might confuse them with one of those U.S. Presidents between Lincoln and FDR.
It's hard, then, to imagine anybody but Holbrook as the nearly iconic Southern Gentleman Farmer at the center of That Evening Sun, an earthy slice of Southern Gothic melodrama that pits Holbrook's elderly, cantankerous Abner Meecham against the white trash ne'er-do-well, Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon), who's moved into Abner's family home. Abner's son (played by Walton Goggins, cast here against type as a well-to-do lawyer in the big city) has put Abner in a nursing home and rented out (with an agreement to eventually sell) the house to the Choats, and Abner's having none of it—he escapes from the home and makes his way back to his homestead, where he promptly parks himself, much to Lonzo's dismay.
Complicating matters is a long history of enmity between Meecham and the Choats, whom Abner considers a bunch of scoundrels and no-good wastrels. Abner once refused to let Lonzo rent out the sharecroppers' quarters on Abner's land, so there's more than a bit of payback motivating Lonzo's purchase, as well as the decidedly inhospitable reception he offers Abner—who stubbornly refuses to leave the property, and, ironically, ends up squatting in the cabin himself.
In a very different kind of movie, we might see Abner and Lonzo eventually come to terms—especially with Lonzo's smart, perceptive young daughter (Mia Wasikowska), who takes a shine to Abner, in the mix—but this isn't that kind of movie. Rather, it's the kind of movie where two prideful, stubborn men refuse to back down or compromise, resulting in an escalating game of chicken thatÉwell, let's put it this way—if you've ever lived in the deep South, you've probably seen long-simmering confrontations like this many, many times. And few of them ever end well.
That Evening Sun is a small, intimate drama, almost entirely confined within the Meecham property lines. Director Scott Teems—a name to watch for—fills the screen with lush, artfully composed Tennessee scenery; watching the film, you feel surrounded by the heavy, humid air and the buzzing of cicadas. The story is a pretty simple, stark tale of conflict, but within it lies generations of class conflict and a Southern society that's a patchwork of alliances and feuds.
Part of the reason the film works so well is that Teems never settles for easy, simplistic heroes and villains. Abner is set up to be the hero of the story, but he's not exactly a saint—his conflict with Lonzo is as much the result of his own prejudices and arrogance as it is Lonzo's weak character. And while we never confuse Lonzo with a stand-up guy, despite his half-hearted efforts to turn his life around, it's hard to ignore how much of what he's become as an adult is the product of how he's been viewed and treated his entire life by proper landowning types like Abner.
This isn't so much a story about a nice old guy being terrorized by a mean, violent hick as it is about two men using their conflict as a way to capture a sense of manhood that lies outside their reach. Abner's best days are behind him—he's not the master of his destiny anymore. And Lonzo, who's never really become a man, wants the self-respect that comes with maturity, but isn't really up to the task of earning it.
The acting in That Evening Sun is faultless, from the lead characters to indelible supporting turns by Barry Corbin and Dixie Carter (who appears in this, her final film, only in brief but memorable flashbacks). You know you're watching a solid cast when you find yourself wishing for a whole series of films set in this little town with these characters.
My screener copy of That Evening Sun doesn't include the transfer included on the retail disc, so I can't evaluate the audio or video quality, or the special features. But the retail disc offers what's intriguingly called a "feature anti-commentary" with director Scott Teems along with the film's cinematographer and editor. Also included are a variety of making-of featurettes and cast/crew interviews.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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