Two men are imprisoned in a room with opposing beliefs, and over the course of an hour and a half they dissect the human condition through conversation. Sunset Limited, an amazing stage-play written by Cormac McCarthy, is perfectly translated to celluloid here by Director/Actor Tommy Lee Jones. The acting storm is made up by the veteran talents of Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.
The entire film takes place in a run-down apartment in the seedy side of town. Jones exercises a very minimalist style of filming, using nothing too fancy to allow the acting to shine. For the most part it’s simple shots of the actors delivering lines that bleed with complexity. However, there are times that Jones focuses on a single subject, such as a hand on the bible or a steaming cup of black coffee, to intensify the mood or a point being made.
Needless to say this is an actor’s showcase. Tommy Lee Jones plays a professor, only referred to in the credits as White, who recently attempted to commit suicide. He is a non-believer that genuinely despises life itself, finding everything in the world completely meaningless. Samuel L. Jackson plays an ex-con turned minister, referred to in the credits as Black. Jackson’s character is a confident believer of the Bible, and tries to save White from his choice of suicide. The clashing of ideas is a shattering experience that is elevated by the dedication in the performances. Jackson is religiously-charged and completely devoted to saving this suicidal man, but he is also a layered character with baggage that bites. Jones is a highly intelligent, over-analyzing Professor that fails to experience happiness and purpose. Everything to him is hopeless, a cup with holes incapable of being filled, and Jones translates that mood with ease. The performances come off like a perfect tennis match.
McCarthy’s dialogue is verbal fire. We are trapped in that room with Black and White, as they cover religion, atheism, purpose, happiness, and everything in between. It’s one big philosophical debate about life itself that may resonate within the viewers for the extension of their lives. Inescapable questions are brought up about the way we are and our purpose in life, and some answers are formed to temporarily fill in a feeling of closure. The conversation has the ability to shake our hazy view on what life is and what it could be. This is truly essential viewing.
The film is one long conversation, taking place in one room. If that’s not your cup of tea, then you have two choices: live dangerously and take a sip of that tea or pass it up for something you know you’ll like.
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A Serious Man
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