His recent Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Into the Wild remains a career highlight for veteran actor Hal Holbrook. One of many wonderful surprises about the gripping rural drama That Evening Sun, based on Tennessee author William Gay's short story I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down, is watching Holbrook better his Into the Wild performance with a complex, heartfelt, lead role. Holbrook brings marquee value to older specialty audiences who know his long career and will respond to the film's story of an elderly Tennessee farmer desperate to regain ownership of his farm. With standout performances, a timeless Southern tale and beautiful use of its East Tennessee locations by first-time feature filmmaker Scott Teems, That Evening Sun will attract critical praise and positive word of mouth to help offset the commercial challenges facing independent, rural-set dramas. Freestyle Releasing, which is handling the film's platform release for Dogwood Entertainment and Ginny Mule Pictures, will experience modest box office, especially in key urban markets, with larger audiences discovering the film later via home video.
Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) is an 80 year old Tennessee farmer angry over both the betrayal of his son (Walter Goggins) who recently put him in a nursing home and the pending sale of his beloved farm to Lonzo Choat (Raymond McKinnon), a troubled young man he never liked. The situation turns explosive when Meecham returns to his farm, settles in the rundown sharecropper's cabin adjacent to the main house and demands that Choat, his wife (Carrie Preston) and teenage daughter (Mia Wasikowska) leave the premises.
Writer/director Scott Teems is a true Southern artist, coming out of programs at Georgia State and University of Georgia before relocating to New York and eventually L.A. His love for Southern literature pays off with an impressive feature debut. That Evening Sun, a phrase taken from a classic Jimmy Rodgers song, claims modest production values but Teems has adapted Gray's story into a tense drama worthy of comparisons to Cormac McCarthy. Patterson Hood of the band Drive-By Truckers complements the storytelling with a soulful soundtrack. Still, Teems' best accomplishment is the performance he gains from Holbrook.
Holbrook, still best known for his stage performances as Mark Twain, appears in every key scene and makes Meecham a dynamic and troubled senior both hateful and sympathetic. Holbrook is at ease in the role as the aged farmer, with his worn hat and beloved pocket watch. When facing off against Choat in the film's most suspenseful sequences, Holbrook displays a loose-cannon intensity seldom seen from him. Holbrook also brings out the best in Raymond McKinnon ( The Blind Side ), who portrays Lonzo as a broken man struggling to right himself instead of the cliché drunken thug.
Marketing that focuses on Holbrook's timeless lead performance will improve box office potential for That Evening Sun, although the film remains a quality calling card for Teems despite its likely theatrical earnings. Emphasizing the film's Southern Gothic roots in the tradition of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor may also help offset its surface appearance as a farmer's story. That Evening Sun is more than the simple story of an elderly farmer, and deserves the attention often reserved for edgier, urban dramas.
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Raymond McKinnon, Carrie Preston and Mia Wasikowska
Director/Screenwriter: Scott Teems
Producers: Ray McKinnon, Walton Goggins, Terence Berry and Laura D. Smith
Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, some violence, sexual content and thematic elements.
Running Time: 110 mins
Release Date: November 6 NY, November 20 L.A.