NOTE: That Evening Sun was an opening-night film at last fall's Indie Memphis Film Festival, where it went on to win the festival's jury award for best narrative feature. With co-star Mia Wasikowska now starring in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, the film finally gets a full theatrical release in Memphis starting this week. Here's an excerpt from Greg Akers' feature on the film from our Indie Memphis fest coverage:
It's been a good year for movies about old white Southern dudes dealing with end-of-life issues. First up was Goodbye Solo, the marvelous North Carolina-set film by Ramin Bahrani that starred Memphis native Red West as a man bent on ending his life on his own terms. Now we have That Evening Sun, another good one, made near Knoxville by Scott Teems and starring Hal Holbrook as a man who escapes a nursing home so that he can return to his homestead and live out his days in the place of his choosing.
The problem for Abner Meecham (Holbrook) is that, when he gets back to his farm, he finds out that his son has rented the property to the no-good Choat family. Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon) readily reflects back Meecham's dislike; Lonzo's wife Ludie (Carrie Preston) tries to play peacemaker; and their daughter Pamela (Mia Wasikowska) is curious about this surly elderly gent who has invaded their lives.
Denied entry into his own home, Meecham's plight literalizes the dispossession of advancing age. Meecham says, "The road ahead ain't long and it ain't winding. It's short and straight as a goddamned poisoned arrow. But it's all I got." So Meecham takes up residence in the farm's tenant house, a small sharecroppers' cabin practically in the shadow of the big farmhouse.
That Evening Sun deploys the look of mildly Southern Gothic still photos at times, many of them involving Holbrook, who cuts a fine jib and is perfectly suited to the task. "[Holbrook] is the consummate professional," Teems says. "Hal has been acting twice as long as I've been alive. I realized pretty early on that I wasn't going to teach him anything. My job was to trust him and get out of the way.
"Working with an actor like him, you can put the camera on him and [capture his] life and history immediately," Teems continues. "It goes hand-in-hand with the way I like to shoot, which is quite reserved. I can just sit back and watch and observe character."
There's also the crucial casting of Dixie Carter as Meecham's deceased wife Ellen, who's only seen in flashback and never speaks a word. She haunts this film, and the memory audiences have of Holbrook and Carter's marriage freights the film with extra meaning.