Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, one becomes self-satisfied in many ways. In my case, I assumed that all the art house films that were worth their salt passed through the area - either in limited distribution or at a film festival. Recently, I was in Las Vegas visiting my father. As I perused the movie section of the Las Vegas Review Journal, I came across a film listing that I was unfamiliar with. The film was That Evening Sun. I looked it up on-line and saw that it had played at numerous film festivals. I looked through the laurels on its official website and could not find that it had played at a film festival in San Francisco. The film won a Special Jury Award at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival.
The reviews looked promising so my father & I headed out to the other side of town to the Regal Cinema at Village Square (where we had seen Mother earlier in the week). It was a weekday matinee and there were 9 people in the audience which is comparable to some of the screenings I've been to in the Bay Area.
The film was a nice find. I'm glad I read the movie listings so closely. The plot revolves around Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook), an 80 year old farmer that has relegated to a retirement home. He "escapes" from the old folks home with the intention of living out his years on his farm. When he arrives, he is greeted by a 16 year old girl sunbathing in is yard. Upon questioning, he discovers that his son has leased out the farm to a family with an option to buy the homestead lock, stock & barrel. Not only that but his son leased the farm to Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon) and his family - poor white trash in Meecham's opinion and he doesn't do much to hide his opinion.
I don't know what I would do in this situation but Meecham decides to stay on the farm. With the Choat family esconced in the main house, Meecham takes up residence in a ramshackle cabin whose previous tenant was probably a sharecropper or even a slave based on appearances. Meecham makes clear it is his intention to evict the Choat's from the property. It's unclear how he intends to do it. For the rest of the film both Meecham and Choat escalate matters in their struggle to force the other to leave.
Meecham's assessment of Choat is fairly accurate - frequently drunk, lazy, hasn't had a job in 10 years, mean tempered, prone to violent outbursts, etc. On the other side of the ledger, Meecham is cantankerous, stubborn, estranged from his son, guilty over his wife's death, holds a grudge, etc.
Holbrook plays his character as you would expect. This "grumpy old man" has been played with variations many times before. Instead, it is Choat and his family that get the more complex characterizations. Choat is a shiftless bum but he knows it and wants to be more than what he is now. To engender some sympathy, a backstory is inserted whereby Choat receives disability payments for a logging accident 10 years ago. He still walks with a limp which Meecham describes as walking like poor, white trash. Meecham's presence and constant hectoring pushes Choat back down into a dark hole while his wife and daughter can only stand by and endure.
Choat's wife (Carrie Preston) was probably the best thing that ever happened to him but you get the feeling that Meecham or no Meecham, Choat is a loser because his daddy was a loser and all he has ever known was failure. Meecham is too damn stubborn to give him a chance much less a helping hand. Choat's wife and daughter (Mia Wasikowska) have this telling exchange towards the end of the film.
Ludie Choat (wife): Don't feel bad. He's [Choat] not angry at you. He's angry at him [Meecham].
Pam Choat: No he's not. He's angry at himself and I'm tired of him taking it out on us.
What is ostensibly a story about an old man trying to find some dignity at the end of his life is really a two pronged story. The other story is about a man that can't find dignity throughout his life.
I don't want to give away the ending but it seems like everyone lost at the end although Choat may have found the seed of hope in his final actions with Meecham while Meecham likely lost all hope and dignity.
If you get a chance to see it, I recommend That Evening Sun. The list of upcoming screenings on the film's website does not list any screenings in the Bay Area except on April 14 (one night only) at the Cameo Cinema in St. Helena.
That Evening Sun starring Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon, Carrie Preston & Mia Wasikowska with Walt Goggins, Barry Corbin and Dixie Carter in supporting roles; (2009) - Official Website
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