Put Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson in one room and film it for an hour and a half, the result will be electrifying. No really, it will be. If you don’t believe me just check out The Sunset Limited, HBO Films’ latest release.
Based on Cormac McCarthy’s play and directed by Jones himself, The Sunset Limited stars Samuel L. Jackson as Black and Tommy Lee Jones as White. At the start, Black saves White from an attempted suicide attempt and brings him back to his apartment. From that point, it’s on. The two men enter into a heated, philosophical debate that carries the entire film.
That’s right, the entire movie is just Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones sparring verbally. The dialog driven film explores existentialism, religion, the meaning of life, faith, human nature, duality and just about anything else you could fit under the philosophy umbrella. It asks a lot of interesting questions and really makes you think. Truthfully, it’s pretty fascinating to listen to. It’s also rather complex once you start to dig into it, which is why multiple viewings are required for this one.
Of course, a movie that is purely dialog driven better have strong writing and thankfully, The Sunset Limited does. McCarthy’s dialog is just as brilliant as the man himself. Perhaps the only complaint I could lodge against the weighty words is that they take away from the characters themselves, leaving us with little reason to care for either Black or White.
As verbal sparring partners, Jackson and Jones match each other every step of the way, each one just as compelling to watch as the other. Jackson does take control here but that’s fine as his commanding voice and screen presence keeps us engaged. Jones is a bit more subdued than his co-star but he still offers a powerful performance. Together, the two create an emotional and suspenseful environment, one that is made all the more interesting by the words coming out of the two actor’s mouths.
The Sunset Limited reminds me of Chinese Coffee, another superb film that featured two men in a room having a conversation. While the wordy, seemingly never ending debate may fail to hold the attention of some, Jones’ minimalistic direction, which focuses on multiple camera angles, keep things fresh and make the one room setting feel a lot bigger than it really is.
Ultimately, as good as the film is, it’s really not for everyone. In fact, I can’t see it finding a large audience at all. Between the subject material and the very nature of the film (90 minutes of two men talking at a table), this one likely won’t strike a chord with mainstream movie watchers.
But, if you’re open to watching something a bit different than what usually comes out of Hollywood, then The Sunset Limited is a good choice. It’s smart, engaging, thought provoking and most of all, features a heated debate between two of Hollywood’s finest. What more can you ask for?
The Blu-Ray itself is very strong in the audio and visual department. Sharpness is the name of the game here and the image presented is pretty much perfect. Crisp edges and beautiful closeups enhance the already impressive picture and strong black levels and excellent contrast round off a great overall transfer.
Aurally, the disc also pleases. Yes, the film is only two men talking in an apartment but that doesn’t mean it can’t sound great. Every word spoken is crystal clear and the limited sound effects found here sound accurate and convincing. Subtle directionality is present as well but overall, there isn’t much to this track. That being said, what’s here is good and I have no complaints.
In terms of special features, we only get two. The first is a five minute making of which is more or less filler. Next we have a commentary from Jones, Jackson and McCarthy but it’s filled with too many silent spots and is a bit boring. We do get a few interesting tidbits about the production but none of these men really seem to have much to say.
Overall, The Sunset Limited is a tough recommendation. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the film. I did. I’m just not sure that many others will feel the same. It’s a tricky film in that its subject material can turn people off from what is otherwise, a very well acted film. If you can get past the subject material and if you’re fine with watching two men debate for an hour and a half, then you’ll find a very powerful, engaging and well done film.
The Sunset Limited is smart, engaging, thought provoking and most of all, features a heated debate between two of Hollywood’s finest. What more can you ask for?