The word “closure” is thrown around often and can be applied to so many aspects of life. But what about the actual closure of one’s life? Not the heavy-duty Million Dollar Baby or The Sea Inside euthanasia kind, but the kind that enables a person to forgive and forget and move in to the twilight stage of his or her life with a peace of mind.
That Evening Sun handles this subject with a beautifully delicate touch, and the result is an engaging and memorable film with a truly special performance by the great Hal Holbrook.
Written and directed by newcomer Scott Teems, That Evening Sun tells the story of ‘Abner Meecham’ (Holbrook), an aging farmer who stews away in a convalescence home, unimpressed with his fellow retirees contentment to piece together jigsaw puzzles and sip on low salt soup.
We see ‘Abner’ bolt from the geriatric lock up and head back to the only home he knows – his farm. Once there, he learns that his attorney son, ‘Paul’ (Walton Goggins) has pulled the rug out from under him by orchestrating the sale of his land to a local derelict, ‘Lonzo Choat,’ played with menacing restraint by Ray McKinnon (O Brother, Where Art Thou?). ‘Abner Meecham’ ain’t the kind of guy to take it lying down, so he moves into the rickety wood shack of a guest home in the back of the property and dares the drunken, freeloading bully squatting on his land to kick him off.
But ‘Choat’ and his wife have legal papers, pushing poor old ‘Abner’ to do some squatting of his own – and ‘Choat’ will not have it.
When ‘Abner Meecham’ belittles ‘Choat’ at the end of their first clash, calling him “white trash,” the intensity spikes. And ‘Choat’ is holding all the cards.
“That’s what you work for in this life, Meecham. Land! To have a home. To be a land owner. And I’m the Goddamned landowner now.”
“Yer in over yer head, son,” ‘Abner’ replies.
“Old people,” snorts ‘Choat.’ “Don’t know when their clock’s run out.”
Holbrook, now 86, known for All the President’s Men (1973), Midway (1973) , The Firm (1993), five seasons of television’s Evening Shade, and his Oscar nominated supporting role in Into the Wild (2007), is one of those rare natural actors who immediately puts his audience at ease.
Even when he has smoke coming out of his ears.
“There’s nothing out there for you anymore, Dad,” says ‘Paul’ in a diner scene that demonstrates the real conflict of the film, the tension and bitterness of the past between father and son. “Life goes on.”
“Life goes on, huh?” ‘Abner’ challenges his righteous offspring. “I’m an 80-year-old man with a bad hip and weak heart, how much life do you think I have to go on with? I’m no fool. The road ahead ain’t long and it aint winding – it’s short and straight as a Goddamned poison arrow. But it’s all I got – and I deserve to do with it as I please.”
Just one of the many expertly written exchanges in That Evening Sun. Writer-director Teems, working from the William Gay short story “I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down,” knows this material and it shows in every camera move (cinematographer Rodney Taylor), musical choice (Michael Penn), and performance nuance.
“I worked really hard to make this script as I tight as I could,” said the director in a recent interview. “So each scene really pushes to the next. For me, if I can be really restrained in how I tell the story, then I’m giving you time and space to enter into it a little more yourself.”
Music to my ears.
There are tender flashback moments where we glimpse ‘Abner’s’ deceased wife (Dixie Carter) that glue the narrative of the material together with a nostalgic sense of regret and loneliness. I was reminded of the heartbreaking 2006 Julie Christie film, Away From Her.
Films about growing old and the difficult decisions that come with it are not most moviegoers’ idea of escapism entertainment. Kudos to the film companies that foster these thoughtful projects and get them trough development; and kudos to the distribution companies that find them a home. No pun intended.
“I truly appreciate the money that was invested in this film. It was a risk. A ballsy risk.” says the Southern filmmaker on the DVD’s director’s commentary. “They wanted to make art. They certainly weren’t investing in this film because it was gonna be a box office smash. It wasn’t going to be Avatar.”