Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Screenplay: Cormac McCarthy
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 90 mins
There are very few living American authors as prolific and important as Cormac McCarthy. Notoriously private yet famously curious, McCarthy has had a career that has ranged nearly five decades, yet throughout the years he has subjected himself to only a tiny handful of interviews, while making himself extremely accessible to those who work at the Santa Fe Institute, a science research center where he has his own office (and is considered “resident faculty”) and spends much of his time studying the sciences and conversing with intellectuals. Until his recognition with the National Book Award for his brutal 1992 romantic western All the Pretty Horses, he was mostly a well-kept secret among literary snobs, but it wouldn’t be until his Pulitzer-winning and Oprah-approved The Road that he would reach serious widespread appeal and acclaim. The rest has been history as McCarthy, now in his late-seventies, is enjoying more success than he could have ever imagined and his works keep attracting the eye of Hollywood’s talent – and the latest adaptation of his work, The Sunset Limited (which he actually adapted for the screen himself), might be the most interesting adaptation of his work yet.
The Sunset Limited has only one set piece. It has only two actors. It has only one continuous conversation that plays out over the course of ninety minutes, yet when those ninety minutes end, you will wonder why the conversation was cut so short. The story begins with two nameless men, a evangelical African American ex-convict (Jackson) and a white atheist professor (Jones). Early on in their conversation, we learn that the ex-convict, whose New York City apartment the two are now at, has just saved the professor from committing suicide on a train platform. The remainder of the film, we watch the two as they discuss and debate God, life, death, and the justification of the professor’s suicide.
The film relies solely on the brilliantly theatrical performances of two extremely talented acting veterans and, more importantly, the writing by a real master of dialogue. It will come to no surprise to those who watch it that McCarthy’s original publication was subtitled “A Novel in Dramatic Form.” For those who have read any McCarthy, the tone and some of the discussion will be familiar, but the execution in The Sunset Limited is masterful. Written only in 2006, the discussions between these two polar opposites seem to be a culmination of everything McCarthy has distinguished concerning mankind over his long life, playing out right there on the screen for us to watch as we battle with the questions being discussed ourselves. For those who enjoy McCarthy’s writing and adaptations or philosophical, dialogue-driven films such as The Man from Earth (our review), this will be right up your alley – and it is bound to end up on many best-of lists come the end of the year.