There's a melancholy verse from W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues that carries everything you need to know about age and regret in a single line.
"I hate to see that evening sun go down, 'cause it makes me think I'm on my last go 'round."
Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) doesn't sing, doesn't quote the verse. But at 80, he knows it in his bones. He's determined to not let that evening sun go down on him in a Tennessee old folks home. That's why he busts out.
That Evening Sun is an indie film based on a William Gay short story and was made by Georgia native Scott Teems. It's a classic slice of Southern Gothic, the sort of movie that gets the South in that William Faulkner way. It's about class and poverty, blood and land.
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Abner makes his way home and discovers that his son has rented out the family farm to the worst sort, white trash.
"I live here," he growls to Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon).
"That's what you think ... old coot," Lonzo drawls back.
The feud is on, with Abner moving into an old servant's quarters on the farm and Choat, his wife and daughter simmering just up the hill from him. The fight is between the two men, Abner wanting to go out with what's his, Choat wanting land, that symbol of getting ahead and being somebody in the rural South. Each man has a reasonable argument. Each has his ornery side. Neither is budging. Violence is coming.
The characters are archetypes with an edge. The dialogue is Southern-fried and hard-bitten. A favorite bit: Old Man Meecham interrupts that worthless cur Choat as the "dumb redneck" is whipping his daughter's boyfriend and his flirty, cut-off-shorts daughter (Mia Wasikowska) with a garden hose. Meecham fires a pistol in the air. "You raise that hose one more time and I'll lay a slug right in that rabbit turd you call a brain."
Holbrook is brooding and fierce and fragile, and ably supported by his wife, the late Dixie Carter (in her final performance, playing Abner's late wife, in flashbacks) and the great Barry Corbin, who is as Southern as they come. McKinnon could keep that haircut and hateful, ignorant voice and play the heavy in any Hollywood film that comes his way.
Here in DirecTV Nation, our regional differences in accent and culture have been fading into a great TV melting pot. Regional filmmakers, like regional writers, are few and far between, largely because filmmakers such as Victor Nuñez (Ulee's Gold) don't want to be pigeon-holed by film financiers and studios. But Teems — like Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories), Tyler Perry, Phil Morrison (Junebug) and Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) — is keeping the faith, unafraid to show that folks aren't the same in Peoria, Pulaski and Palatka. Let's hope they never let that evening sun go down on movies with a Southern sense of place.