The Sunset Limited

A film with two people in a room talking to each other about their beliefs. In the wrong hands this could be a total car wreck of a film that no one would intentionally get to the end of. Fortunately for me The Sunset Limited was very much in the right hands.

The film opens with two men sitting at a table in a run down apartment room. Neither of them look particularly at ease. The more serene man (Samuel L Jackson) starts a conversation with the with the man opposite (Tommy Lee Jones).  In the credits the actors are named as Black and White but they never address each other with this at any point. Black calls White ‘The Professor’ several times without any expalnation except that Black is a very clever and learned man. It becomes apparent the White is anxious to leave the room. A story slowly unfolds of how the two men happen to be in the room. On his way to work Black happened to see Black trying to take his own life by throwing himself under the wheels of The Sunset Limited stop train. How Black persuaded White not to jump is not explained. The conversation takes the form of a verbal duel. each man has his opinions and beliefs. Black lives and breathes the teachings of the Bible. Not in that he lives by them but uses the teachings as a roadmap to find his way. As he states everything he knows is in between the covers of the book. White as you would imagine is of the opposite view. he believes in his self and that the more knowledge a man has the more miserable he becomes. For him there is no all-powerful being overseeing us all. The battle lines are drawn but who will be the victor?

This what you would call a perfect storm of a film. Every element has come together beautifully. If you are only going to have two actors on-screen you better make sure you have the right ones. On their game, and they are here, the two leads are excellent. Having two actors with such powerful and distinctive voices cannot hurt either. It was a masterly move to cast them. Both actors have rich interesting voices that draw you in. This is exactly what is needed to retain the interest throughout  the 90 minute run time. The actors relish the opportunity to stretch themselves and their performance are superb. Of course having such strong source material cannot hurt. Written for the stage and adapted for the screen by writer Cormac McCarthy this a wordy, intricate and engrossing tale. To fully enjoy and follow all of the arguments it takes at least a couple of viewings (for me at least). Not that there is anything wrong with that.

With one set and few props, Tommy Lee Jones directs this with style and imagination. The shots are varied and always interesting without being flashy. Jones has faith in the story and allows it to flow without any flashy cuts or unusual angles pulling you out of the story.

An engrossing, intelligent and thought-provoking drama. Highly recommended.

John McArthur
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