A cantankerous old widower defies the authorities and makes one last, spectacular play to keep the old homestead he's in danger of losing. It may sound a lot like Pixar's Oscar-winning cartoon feature Up, but rookie filmmaker Scott Teems' That Evening Sun, a live-action meditation on loneliness and redemption, establishes a compelling, somewhat astringent personality all its own. Adapted from a short story by William Gay, the film is blessed with a superb performance by Hal Holbrook.
Onscreen in almost every scene of the film, this fine, veteran actor is endlessly fascinating to watch, even when his character is himself on the sidelines, watching the action. After three months in a Tennessee nursing home, surrounded by people waiting to die, 80-year-old Abner Meecham (Holbrook) packs his bag and sets out for the farm 20 miles away where he and his late wife lived for 50 years. When he gets there, he finds his rambling old farmhouse occupied by local Lonzo Choat (Raymond McKinnon), his nervous wife (Carrie Preston) and their ripening teenage daughter (Mia Waikowska), who have leased the place from Abner's lawyer son. Pointing out that he's still the owner, Abner moves into a run-down sharecroppers' shack down the hill from the big house and refuses to budge. A battle of wills ensues between acerbic Abner and hard-luck, hard-drinking Lonzo, who has delusions of becoming a landowner (although he's only weeks away from missing his next payment and forfeiting on his lease). Abner has always considered the Choats "white trash" loafers, and his opinion is not improved when he sees Lonzo chase after his wife and daughter with a garden hose in a drunken rage. The dialogue is generally sharp (especially Abner's) without veering into cutesy clichés. (When his son tells him "life goes on," Abner replies, "I'm an 80-year-old man with a bum hip and a weak heart. How much life do you think I got left to go on with?") And that the film considers all sides of a story that never goes exactly where we expect it to makes it all the more deserving of the integrity, resilience, and disgruntled sass of Holbrook's enormously moving performance at its center. (R) 109 minutes. (★★★)—LJ
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