That Evening Sun is really a remarkable little film for a number of reasons. The script, based on a short story by Southern writer William Gay, is engaging and believable, telling the tale of an old man who runs away from the nursing home his son has placed him in and tries to take back his farm that has been rented to a man he holds in contempt. This looks like it could be just another story of a grumpy old man forming an unlikely friendship with a young girl. It is that kind of story, but it manages to be moving and engaging, dealing with issues of mortality, aging and fear without ever being cute. The cinematography is atmospheric, evoking the feel of a steamy, desolate fly speck of a town in Tennessee. The feel of the film is helped in now small amount by a plodding soundtrack by Michael Penn, which is quite nice, though when he sings he sounds like he is desperately trying to imitate Bob Dylan.
The performances are all consistently good. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska plays the young daughter of the man who has leased the property. Director Scott Teems was reportedly adamant about casting only actors raised in the South for the sake of authentic accents, but reluctantly agreed to audition Wasikowska after he could not find anyone better. Her accent is perfect, and her performance is good enough to leave me wishing she was in the film a bit more. It is amazing how much she looks and acts like Sissy Spacek in A Coal Miner’s Daughter. I wasn’t crazy about Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, but felt that her performance was the best thing in it, which was sadly overshadowed by all of the CG swirling all around. At the tender age of 20, she already stands out as a performer with great things in front her. It will be interesting to see her in the lead role in Jane Eyre next year.
Of course the greatest thing about That Evening Sun is the career-capping performance by Hal Holbrook, and 84-year-old actor playing an 80-year-old character who is still full of beans. Holbrook has always been good, but has usually been limited to supporting role. In All The President’s Men, he appears mainly in silhouette, as Woodward and Bernstein’s elusive informant, but he leaves a memorable image in the film. His performance here is one of those that is so good that it is impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, and it is easy to conclude that he really makes the film. The acclaim he received for this role seems to have sparked something of a renaissance in his career, and he currently has two films listed as “in post-production” on imdb.com.