Michel Franco’s Sundown is a film of two halves. Almost antagonistic to a point in the first portion, those who stick with its initial ambivalent vibe will most certainly be awed by where the film takes its viewer by its end.
Afraid to give away too many details, I’ll try my best. Needless to say, at first glance, the lead character played to icy detachment by Tim Roth (whose seemingly on a roll in choosing film roles that place him in exotically beautifully locations) seems to be enduring a mid life crisis of mammoth proportions.
When we first meet him, he’s on vacation with his family (and wife played by Charlotte Gainsbourg), being pampered and taken care of at an exclusive resort in Acapulco. Sudden news draws the rest of his family away, but a forgotten passport strands him at the local airport. From there, Sundown embarks on a journey of bewildering physical stasis, following Neil as he meets new people, strikes up new friendships and drinks alot of alcohol on the beach.
Remaining in total control of every frame as he did with his excellent study of violent repression in New Order (2020), Franco favors the less-is-more structure of storytelling here. There are stretches of Sundown that particularly incite the viewer by Neil’s total lack of commitment to anything other than drinking and shrinking into the background. Think of all those films where some shadowy ex-patriot is living in an exotic location with no visible means of money or livelihood. Sundown could be their origin story.
But eventually, Franco and Roth shape a commanding vision of a man who wants to sink into the background like a tourist relic for all the complex reasons. Never mind that he’s essentially thrusting away from generations of family money and the familial ties that have bound him his whole life. Sundown is about the avoidance of all those things in favor of something much greater. And the way it slips into its denouement is powerfully understated.
In one scene that’s stuck with me for awhile now, Neil is half asleep on the beach when a shadow appears over him. He holds his hand across his face to make out the visage of his friend (Iazua Larios) hovering above him through the sun beating down on them. It’s a perfect motif for a film that deals in blocking out all the unnecessary radiance around itself and becoming something more insidious in the process.
Sundown opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday February 4th at the following locations: Angelika Plano and Dallas locations and the AMC Parks location in Arlington. Check theaters for showtimes.