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Review: Sundown

At the center of Sundown is a protagonist so selfish, you are compelled to watch him in hopes of finding some redeeming quality. We are not supposed to like him and the film makes it tough to even understand what motivates him for much of the runtime. A dark sense of humor begins to emerge as he seems to disassemble his entire life in favor of vibing on the beach. That humor, if you can get on its wavelength, is one of the pleasures of the film. The other is Tim Roth's lead performance.

I might urge you to stop reading if you have any desire to see the film. Sundown is best experienced knowing as little as possible. It has twists that both shock and illuminate what is going on with Roth's character Neal. Not knowing where the film ends up is crucial to enjoying the ride. That being said, where it ends up is not fully satisfying.

Neal (Roth) is on vacation in Acapulco with Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), his sister, and her two kids. They are clearly wealthy, living it up and indulging in a privileged lifestyle. Things are interrupted when Alice gets a call that their mother is very ill. They cut the vacation short and are in the airport to leave when Alice gets another call that their mother has died. Neal claims his passport is back at the hotel and that Alice and the kids should go on without him. Alice offers to stay, wanting her brother there to face the tragedy together. Neal assures her that he will be on the next flight.

However, then Neal gets into a can and goes to a hotel, any hotel the driver wants to take him to. He drinks beer and naps on the beach and begins to ignore his sister's calls. He meets a beautiful local woman and they begin an affair. When he does talk to his sister, he claims he is trying to get things figured out. As an audience, we begin to question why he wants to do this. Is it a rejection of his wealth or a plan to take more of it? That isn't clear until the film's final act. The family is punished in Sundown's second act in such a way to suggest payback for their capitalist flaunting.

Your reaction to Sundown will depend on how you feel about films that leave you unsure about their message. I prefer a film that makes me wrestle with its themes rather than being bludgeoned with a message. However, Sundown sits in the odd middle ground. At times the film is blunt and other times opaque. Mexican director Michel Franco has been criticized for being exploitive and there is a sense that the filmmaker enjoys centering the film on an unlikeable, upper-class jerk. The film looks stunning and the mixture here of polished images with a nihilistic tone reminded me of Michael Haneke's films. Similar to Haneke, there is a sense that Franco hates his main characters and enjoys seeing them punished.

At the core of the film is Tim Roth who gives a great performance here. There is enough of a glimmer of good in his take on Neal to make you continue to watch as he checks out of life. The third act veers a bit into surrealism and politicizes some of the film's themes in a way that I found defeating. However, I enjoyed the journey there. Roth is key to that as his performance is compelling, making you want to understand what is going on behind those eyes.



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