“How could you forget your passport?” All a seemingly perplexed Neil (Tim Roth) can do is shake his head when his nephew, Colin (Samuel Bottomley) asks this question to his uncle mere moments before boarding a flight back home to London. The well-off Neil, his nephew, his niece, Alexa (Albertine Kotting McMillan), and Neil’s sister, the equally wealthy Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) were vacationing in the gorgeous (at least the portion of town they were experiencing) locale of Acapulco, Mexico, which has now been cut short due to a family emergency.
Instead of holding up the logistics, Neil opts to stay behind, promising to catch the next available flight once he locates his necessary travel documentation. Killing time, Neil immerses himself in the company of local store owner, Bernice (Iazua Larios). That “next available flight” never comes.
Writer and director Michael Franco has made a career out of making films with Mexico’s socioeconomic status as either at the central point of the story or a tangential one, and sometimes, his focus on this has been deemed as elementary and super controversial. There’s a smidge of focus once again on this in Sundown; Neil is often only seen as the only Caucasian when he is introduced to the other side of Acapulco, and Franco isn’t shy about making sure we as an audience know Neil is now in a dangerous part of the area, whether via the ambient but consistent automatic gunfire, hearing someone ask a character if they’re safe, or seeing an act of violence in broad daylight. It is a bit heavy handed and unnecessary.
Sundown is likely to draw viewers in and keep viewers in because of its setting. With gorgeous vista views, the warm sunlight bathing every inch of land (very much appreciated for this viewer during a brutal winter) tantalizing close-ups of delicious fare, and having all this at points clash with the city’s underworld, Franco along with Yves Cape’s cinematography puts viewers there in Mexico. Even as the on-screen events sometimes appear to be stuck in neutral, the movie’s visuals never fail to keep investment.
The story of Sundown is somewhat difficult to discuss without spoilers. Do not worry, it won’t be done here. That said, for what can be discussed, Franco’s script is irregular, leaning more on visuals and setting(s) instead of dialogue, which is a bold choice as this is not quite a character study but it is essentially such as we are asked to see the film from Neil’s viewpoint. The mild and perhaps major issue (for some) is, it is very much difficult to rationalize with the decision(s) through a heavy bulk of the runtime Neil makes because Franco gives little in the way of what might suggest Neil acts in the way he does until the end. Power to him, his ending and ultimate character reveal does make one want to reverse engineer scenes for deeper clues, and gives the feature a philosophical “what would you do?” slant in this scenario.
If your film has a significant character who is morally distant and ambiguous if not downright villainous, history has shown that Roth is the person you want to play the part, comfortable, magnetic, even darkly humorous through mannerisms alone despite playing someone who isn’t. Neil’s whole distant demeanor and intense impersonality makes the urge to understand him stronger. Some other steady thespians are interspersed here such as Gainsbourg and Larios, yet they all are supportive means to Roth’s character’s end, some obvious in the roles they’re meant to play, others not so much.
For a movie barely 85 minutes in runtime, Sundown is going to inspire some interesting discourse and general feelings on each end of the support spectrum in the weeks and months following its release. And the crazy thing is, both ends of the spectrum will have a lot of valid ammo for why they feel the way they do. Sundown is not the easiest movie to embrace, but it is something that will certainly invite some viewers to return not once, but multiple times to this beach.
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