Tim Roth is worth watching in whatever he does. Whether he’s playing with Quentin Tarantino, helming his own film, or anything in between, Roth is a compelling talent. So, his recent collaborations with Michel Franco have been particularly interesting. Not only are they getting some of his best work, they’re doing so in movies that have almost no commercial appeal. Truly, these are art house cinema projects. Luckily, they’re also very well done. So, while Sundown is incredibly hard to watch, Roth once again is able to rise above whatever might otherwise hold you back. This flick is a tough sit, but he makes it worth your time.
Sundown will test you, in more ways than one. It’s slowly paced, matter of fact in its bleakness, and doesn’t really give you any catharsis. It’s just about the observation of it all. That may be too much for some, and I wouldn’t blame them at all for not being able to handle it. If not for Roth, I know I wouldn’t be recommending this one. He’s so good though, he keeps you curious for the story to reveal itself. Once it does, you finally understand what’s being gotten at here.
Neil Bennett (Roth) and Alice Bennett (Charlotte Gainsbourg) appear like the heads of any upscale family. Vacationing in Acapulco with the younger members of the clan in Colin (Samuel Bottomley) and Alexa (Albertine Kotting McMillan), they’re lounging and taking it easy. Neil seems not to be having much fun though, and that’s saying something when Alice is buried in her phone. When a family emergency summons them home, he appears supportive, right up until he “forgets” his passport back a the resort. Ushering them on the plane, he says he’ll take the next one out. Then, he takes a taxi, not back to the resort, but to a much smaller and less expensive motel.
Back on the beach, Neil just sits around, drinking. He meets and sleeps with Bernice (Iazua Larios), while placating Alice with calls stretching out his time “stuck” in Mexico. Why is he doing this? What will happen if/when he’s confronted? These are the questions being pondered here, though the answers are hardly what you’d expect them to be.
The performance by Tim Roth ropes you in. He gives you so little of what’s going on in the character’s mind, letting it be revealed in tiny drips. It’s undoubtedly frustrating, but it builds to something actually rather touching. Roth does so much with just minor expressions. It’s the type of work you appreciate when you see. He’s also really the only character we spend much time with. Charlotte Gainsbourg is a welcome presence but somewhat wasted, while the supporting cast includes the aforementioned Samuel Bottomley, Iazua Larios, and Albertine Kotting McMillan, alongside Henry Goodman.
Michel Franco is quickly becoming a master at depressing cinema. The filmmaker is exploring some dark emotions, unafraid to wallow in sadness. Chronic did that, while Sundown almost ups the ante. It makes even this short flick, which runs shy of 90 minutes, a test of your patience, but one worth indulging in. Literally down to the final moments, he’s still revealing more to you. Mainstream, he’s not, but a singular voice, Franco most certainly is.
Sundown is not going to leave you with a happy feeling on the inside, but watching Tim Roth is a pleasure. If you’ve been able to handle Michel Franco’s films before, this should immediately have your attention. If you’ve tapped out in the past, this won’t bring you back. In the end, Roth is so good, I can’t help but recommend this one.