More than seven months after its debut last March at South by Southwest, I’ve finally seen Scott Teems‘ That Evening Sun, an exceptionally well-honed, low-budget regional drama with a lead performance by Hal Holbrook that feels lean, crafty and country-plain — clearly in the same cut-the-b.s., less-is-more realm as Robert Duvall‘s performance in Tender Mercies or Billy Bob Thornton‘s in Sling Blade. By my sights Holbrook’s work certainly deserves a Best Actor nomination.
I mean, if you can’t stand up and salute an actor like Holbrook, 84 and going strong and delivering perhaps the most emotional and pugnacious and flavorful performance of his long screen career, who can or should you nominate? He was Oscar-nominated last year for his moving supporting performance in Into The Wild; there’s clearly more where that came from.
Teems’ script enhances considerably by pruning Holbrook’s dialogue, that of a flinty old cuss named Abner Meecham, down to the bare essentials. Everything Holbrook says is a variation on a basic theme, to wit: “I’m an old man and I haven’t much time left. This house and property are mine and my memories haunt it, and this is where I want to live until such time that my body gives out and my life ends. Because it’s my right, dammit, and because a man is entitled to end his life the way he sees fit.”
Teems’ screenplay doesn’t mince words or beat around the bush. And it’s a pleasure to watch Holbrook trigger Meecham in an agreeably tough way, playing a tenacious old coot who’s never less than honest or sensible or clear-headed with other characters, or with the audience for that matter. So yeah, I’ve fallen in line with the rest of the crowd, I’m afraid. That Evening Sun is a fulfilling low-key pleasure, and Holbrook rules.
I caught it last night at a Talking Movies screening at Florence Gould Hall at 55 East 59th Street. Jeffrey Lyons and Roberta Burrows introduced and then co-hosted a post-screening interview with Holbrook, Teems and costar Ray McKinnon. The above video is worth listening to for a passage in which Holbrook explains that his late father in law (i.e., the dad of his wife Dixie Carter) is/was pretty much the inspiration for the Meecham character.
I also loved a line about acting that Sidney Lumet passed along to Holbrook during the filming of The Group, to wit: “Audiences can read an actor’s mind.”
Here’s an excellent interview piece with Holbrook by Variety critic and Moving Picture blogspot host Joe Leydon. It’s called “After all these years, Hal Holbrook still doesn’t know just how damn good he is. But he’s learning.”
Holbrook will attened an early-evening public screening tonight of That Evening Sun at Cinema 1. He will also submit to another q & a.