Tim Roth shines in this existentialist drama
Neil Bennett (Tim Roth) is not a happy man. Despite being on a vacation in Acapulco with his sister Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her two teenage children, Colin (Samuel Bottomley) and Alexa (Albertine Kotting McMillan), he looks downright miserable as he stares down at the water below him during the opening sequence of the film.
When Alice receives news that their mother has died, Neil conveniently loses his passport and stays behind while the rest of his family members head back to London to deal with their grief. In their absence, the once cheerless Neil perks up and begins to enjoy life a little more, even though he too should be grieving.
Despite the promise to Alice that he will take the next flight home, he books himself into a different hotel and starts to get friendly with a local woman. It soon becomes clear that he has no intention of returning home at all.
Presumably tired of his domestic and business life in London, perhaps it’s no surprise that he decides to stay behind in sunny Acapulco. Who wouldn’t want to trade the stresses of life for the relaxing confines of a beach resort? For a while, it can be assumed that he has been going through some kind of mid-life crisis, hence his decision to delay (perhaps permanently) his journey home.
But this is simply speculation as the director and writer of the film, Michel Franco, doesn’t give us a lot in the way of backstory. For a long stretch of the film, we simply watch Neil go about his days as he walks and sleeps on the beach, drinks beer, and stares off into the distance. It’s hard to know what is going on in his head and as such, it’s easy to become as disinterested in him as he is about his grieving family members.
And then another tragedy occurs and suddenly, we are forced to look at Neil in a new light. I’m not going to go into plot details here as that would spoil one of the film’s few surprises. But as an audience member, I was startled at this dramatic event that happens during the mid-way point of what was previously a slow and lackadaisical film.
Tim Roth is excellent as Neil, the middle-aged man who has presumably lost his mojo. He never clues us in to what Neil is thinking or going through but he manages to impress with his performance regardless, showcasing the ice-cold exterior of a man who is depressed one moment and eerily calm the next. Charlotte Gainsbourg impresses too as the increasingly exasperated woman who returns to Acapulco after worrying about her brother, only to find him sitting silently in a deck chair, seemingly without a hint of any care for her anxious feelings.
Franco’s film is gorgeously shot and he captures every element of the paradise setting. At times, you could be fooled into thinking you’re watching a travelogue with people from a variety of different classes and backgrounds enjoying life on Acapulco’s sandy beaches.
But then violence occurs, blood mixes with the rising tide of the sea, and we, like Neil, are reminded that death is an ever-present reality for all of us. No matter how hard we try to escape from it, death is always there, upending our thought processes, even when we travel to distant places to block this painful reminder. It’s an ugly truth and it can be assumed that this is the crux of Neil’s crisis.
Despite being rich, his life seems to hold little meaning, and when he’s looking despairingly into the sea, it might be that he’s facing up to the emptiness of his own existence. That’s my understanding of the film anyway but your interpretation of the film might be different to mine.
Sundown isn’t a film for anybody looking for lots of exposition and a tidy resolution. Franco invites us into the life of a depressed and despondent man but doesn’t give away many clues about him. It’s up to us to understand the workings of his mind and we are left to guess at the meaning of the film’s ending too.
If you’re somebody who likes to theorise about films and discuss your interpretations with others, you will get more from this than those who want a coherent and easy-to-understand story. I fall into the former category but while I appreciated the opportunity to have a discussion with a friend afterwards, even I felt a little short-changed about the bare-bones nature of the narrative.
Verdict - 6.5/10