About this time of year, every year, there’s at least one spare, micro-budgeted indie film, a la Starting Out in the Evening, that features a ruminative, calling card performance by an aging actor. This year that film is That Evening Sun, and that actor is Hal Holbrook, Oscar-nominated a few years back for Into the Wild. Based on a short story by William Gay, and gracefully adapted for the screen by director Scott Teems, the movie might best be described as a coming-to-terms-with-age tale — part mournfully rustic, part delightfully crotchety, and entirely a fitting vehicle for Holbrook’s underappreciated talents.
The erstwhile big screen “Deep Throat” stars as Abner Meecham, an aging Tennessee farmer who absconds from the assisted living facility he’s been set up in by his lawyer son (Walton Goggins), and catches a ride back to his country farm to live out his days in peace. Upon his return, though, he discovers his property has been leased to an old enemy and his family. Not one to either suffer fools or be dictated to, Abner moves into the old tenant shack on the property and declares he will not leave until the farm is returned to him. But Lonzo Choat (Raymond McKinnon), the new tenant, has no intention of giving in to Abner’s demands, and so an increasingly edgy and dangerous battle of wills ensues.
Trading in slow pans, simple set-ups and outdoor locations that match the material, Teems doesn’t try to showcase a bunch of directorial razzle dazzle. Southern characters are frequently woefully misrepresented in American film, but, if you ignore the molasses-dipped names, That Evening Sun has an easy, unforced sense of authenticity that takes it a long way. There’s a Faulknerian specificity here, and Holbrook doesn’t overplay the emotion, expressing the grace notes of a man swallowed up by both frustration and regrets he won’t as readily admit. Abner’s decisions are sometimes a bit more impulsive than seem genuine for a man of his age, no matter the heart behind them. But That Evening Sun reminds us that feeling is often stronger than thought, in adolescence and old age alike. (Freestyle Releasing, PG-13, minutes)