Nov 9, 2009

On That Evening Sun

By Evan Louison

For those familiar with Hal Holbrook’s much revered “Mark Twain Tonight!,” where the veteran American actor seemingly exhorts and sneers in the same breath as Samuel Clemens with equal amounts respect and humour, it should come as no surprise to find some of that same poise and cunning in his most recent performance, as the southern stalwart Abner Meecham in Scott Teems' brilliant new film, That Evening Sun. An award winner in Sarasota, it is the type of small, quiet project that goes easily unnoticed. Lo and behold, it has opened in New York on another busy weekend for "specialty" films in new York. I can’t really recommend it highly enough.

Adapted from the William Gay short story which in turn had its title lifted from a William Faulkner line “I hate to see that evening sun goes down…,” the film is at all points engrossing and halting. In a way, it disarms the viewer with the patience and temperate pace of its narrative, while at the same time, providing exhilarating work from its performers in plentiful doses. It reveals characters whose lives and fortunes are, quite literally, on the line in a taut and stirring manner.

The long and short of the film’s conceit is that Abner Meecham, relegated to a rest home after he suffers a fall on the farm he’s run with his wife of many years, recently deceased, is fed up. It is this experience, one of the world around him changing at a pace beyond his reasons and needs, his understandings, that compels him to flee the safety of his nursing home exile and return home, by hook or by crook. Defying all demands to return placed upon him by his son, whose decisions we find, are the ones that matter most in deciding Abner’s fate, he wants back what he can never have. Abner’s return to his lifelong home is one of misery and disappointment; he finds it undeniably changed, leased to a local ne’erdowell at his son’s bidding, someone Abner refers to not just in passing, as trash.

This controversy drives the various interested parties (Holbrook’s reactionary, stubborn old man, his son, a successful, legally justified malcontent, and the new tenants, a family of drunken father, doting mother, and rebellious, equally sexed and innocent daughter) into a web of dependence, annoyance, and antagonism. The war at hand at times seems overwrought with obstacles, rife with an insurmountable discontent, a land feud blown curiously out of proportion by Meecham’s refusal to change or compromise, and his decision to launch an all-out campaign against the new residents on his land. It is a wall of humid, impossible conflict, which can only end in frustrating, inevitable tragedy.

In a world of images, media, and expressions less than stunning, we can at times be handed with great ease many spoonfuls of shit in place of nurturing, challenging work. That which asks questions of us the viewer, which drives us to question our surroundings in tow, is what matters. This film is not of that lot. Instead it provides a rare offering of stark, fluid storytelling, and visceral, at times confounding performances. One for the ages. If this one doesn’t grant Holbrook the honor he deserves, the establishment has another thing coming. Go hence and discover for yourself.