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New Review: That Evening Sun

October 8, 2009

that-evening-sun-1

First-time feature director Scott Teems shows his love of southern literature through a lovely adaptation of William Gay’s short story “I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down.”

The movie, titled “That Evening Sun,” follows Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook, pictured above), an 80-year-old Tennessee farmer that is discontent with nursing home living. Through a series of quick scenes, Teems introduces us to Meecham as he walks out on the home and sets to walk miles to his own farm.

He convinces a taxi driver sent to pick him up to instead take him home. The scene in which the taxi driver shows up sets the stage for the generational conflict that later makes up a major point of the film. Meecham has stopped by the river to get some water, sweat pouring off of him. By the river side he has lost his stop watch and the taxi driver says he should give up. But he refuses and eventually finds it.

When Meecham arrives on his farm he discovers that his son who tricked him into the nursing home (played by Walter Goggins) has rented the farm out to a “white-trash” family.

Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon) – the “white-trash” father – tries to push Meecham back to the nursing home. He, of course, stubbornly refuses and sets camp in the old tenant shack near the house. The situation is set up for the two to butt heads leaving Choat’s wife (Carrie Preston) and daughter (Mia Wasikowska) in the middle.

Teems takes a long time building character and continually escalates the tension between Meecham and Choat but also between Meecham and his son and Choat and his family. Key to the audience remaining unsure who is in the right is the family dynamics. Preston makes us believe, despite being beaten, that perhaps there is something good within Choat. Wasikowska ups the stakes because we want her to find a way out. Goggins makes us question the sanity and stubbornness of Meecham.

But we are clearly meant to see Meecham as our protagonist and if there is any doubt of that – we cut to images running through his head of his wife (Dixie Carter, also his real-life wife) who has died in the house. His sentimental attachment to her leads us along with wanting him to get back in his home.

The film was shot outside of Knoxville and at Sidewalk Film Festival Teems pointed out that the main setting was the first place they looked, but it was not until much later after a thorough scout that they passed the house at a different angle. It was then that he knew it was the right place. When talking with the owners of the home, the true life story of the home was eerily similar to the film.

Teems also noted at a screenwriting panel at Sidewalk that his love of southern authors, citing Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, Tom Franklin  (ahem, Oxford writers!) and others, is what draws him to these stories. He noted that the short story is the proper vehicle for adaptation because it gives you the structure but the screenwriter can then fill in the details. A novel, he said, has to be sliced into and the film gives a cliff-notes version.

The mood of “That Evening Sun” reminiscent of recent southern features “Ballast” and “Goodbye Solo” in that it captures the quiet yet turbulent lives of southerners.

Although Teems has impressed festival audiences before with his short film “A Death in the Woods,” this film marks the start of what will hopefully be a long career making features. Make no doubt, while Teems understands the south and expresses it beautifully on film, he is not a regional filmmaker. His work transcends into capturing a lovely and intimate examination of human nature.

The film has played well and won awards at festivals such as Atlanta Film Festival and SXSW. The film screened at Sidewalk Film Festival two weeks ago. It opens Indie Memphis tonight. If any distributor is smart out there – you should be seeing this in theaters.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. AlexP permalink
    October 27, 2009 7:12 pm

    Totally agree with this review. The film was thoughtful on so many levels. Mia Wasikowska and Ray McKinnon delivered exceptional performances and the heart of it all is the very talented Mr. Holbrook.

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  1. That Evening Sun (2009) | All Films Blog

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