Like the Jeff Bridges vehicle Crazy Heart (scheduled to open locally this Friday), That Evening Sun is one of those films that generates nearly all of its goodwill from a smashing central performance by a long-established veteran. Here, it's Hal Holbrook who shows up to demonstrate to Hollywood's young pups how it's done.
Holbrook plays Abner Meecham, an elderly Tennessee farmer who's been dumped into a nursing home by his well-meaning but insensitive son (Walt Goggins). Having none of it, Abner bolts from the facility and returns to the property that he's owned forever -- only to discover that his son has rented it to Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon), a loutish redneck Abner has long abhorred. Of course, Lonzo and his family -- meek wife Ludie (Carrie Preston) and restless daughter Pamela (Mia Wasikowska, soon to be seen as Tim Burton's Alice) -- have no intention of leaving, setting up a prickly, potentially violent feud between Abner and Lonzo.
Adapting William Gay's story "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down," writer-director Scott Teems gives his actors plenty of room to roam: McKinnon manages to inject his crude character with flashes of civility, while Barry Corbin is memorable in his few scenes as Abner's longtime friend. Yet this is first and foremost a showcase for Holbrook, and it's a shame that he has to contend with some poor late-inning plotting -- specifically, an obvious climax and a cop-out coda. These flaws aren't enough to detract from his tough-minded performance, but I hate to see That Evening Sun go down in a burst of timidity.