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Hal Holbrook continues his late-career renaissance, begun so vividly with his Oscar-nominated turn in “Into the Wild,” with this elegiac drama about an octogenarian who still has a lot of fight left in him.
Echoing themes from last year’s Clint Eastwood starrer “Gran Torino, “That Evening Sun” is a moving if too-leisurely paced effort that benefits immeasurably from the superb performance by its 84-year-old star. Unfortunately, the film is unlikely to have the sort of commercial impact that would ensure a well-deserved best actor Oscar nomination.
Set in Tennessee, the film, adapted from a short story by Southern writer William Gay, revolves around the travails of Abner Meecham (Holbrook), a widowed farmer who has been shipped off to a nursing home by his lawyer son (Walton Goggins, from “The Shield”).
One day, Abner decides that he’d rather spend the rest of his days at his old farm, so he flees the home and makes the trek to his former property, only to discover that his son has leased it to Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon), who now lives there with his wife (Carrie Preston) and teenage daughter (Mia Wasikowska, as good here as she was in HBO’s “In Treatment).
Abner, who considers the family to be little more than white trash, takes up residence in an old shack on the property, much to Lonzo’s consternation. What begins as a tense relationship eventually threatens to turn into violence, with Abner even threatening Lonzo at gunpoint when he sees him viciously beating his daughter.
But Abner, who keeps experiencing flashbacks of his former happy life with his late wife (Dixie Carter, Holbrook’s real-life spouse), is no Eastwood, and “Evening Sun” is less an action drama about a gun-packing coot than a mournful character study of a stubborn-willed man facing the indignities of old age and isolation.
Director-screenwriter Scott Teems’ script gives all the characters their due, with even the loutish Lonzo given more depth than one might have expected. Although the story contains its predictable elements — needless to say, Abner and the young daughter form an unlikely bond — there are enough beautifully observed smaller moments to overcome them.
The cast, led by Holbrook giving one of the best performances of his career (and that’s saying something), is uniformly terrific, with especially memorable work by veteran actor Barry Corbin as Abner’s nursing-home confidante.
Tech credits are fine, especially Michael Penn’s atmospheric musical score and Rodney Taylor’s handsome lensing.
Opens: Friday, Nov. 6 (Freestyle Releasing)
Production: Dogwood Entertainment, Ginny Mules Pictures
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon, Walton Goggins, Mia Wasikowska, Carrie Preston, Barry Corbin, Dixie Carter
Director-screenwriter: Scott Teems
Producers: Laura Smith, Terence Berry, Raymond McKinnon, Walton Goggins
Executive producers: Adrian Jay, Larsen Jay, Raul L. Celaya
Director of photography: Rodney Taylor
Production designer: Mara Lepere-Schloop
Editor: Travis Sittard
Costume designer: Alexis Scott
Music: Michael Penn
Rated PG-13, 109 minutes
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