The Sunset Limited (2011)- Tommy Lee Jones
Verdict: Watch it!
Cormac McCarthy’s brief novel in dramatic form sounds easy enough to adapt into a film: Black and White (these are the names given) sit in a room talking about God and suicide after Black saves White from throwing himself in front of a subway train. Tommy Lee Jones and company definitely can fool you into believing it really was.
Jones having already starred in another adaptation of one of McCarthy’s novels, took the opportunity to adapt The Sunset Limited as nearly plainly as the text dictates, and so the film is extremely faithful to the novel, even if twenty minutes were cut by the editors. McCarthy himself lent a helping hand in the production. The only real negative comes from the novel itself. The reality is that, because of the novel’s ‘physically’ static nature, it shouldn’t translate to film at all. The Sunset Limited could have and should have been an snooze fest, but then this is exactly where Jones’s directorial strength stood out. He made sure to build a set where the camera could be in any location he wanted. He also takes slight liberties with the text throughout. He does both in order to keep the scene visually interesting. Mission accomplished. While some random hand gestures may feel out of place, the best scene in the film was precisely because of one of the liberties taken. Many of the other best moments gained emotional relevance because of evocative camera placement.
While dark, as is typical for McCarthy, Jones never lets the movie feel overwhelmingly hopeless, and his interpretation of the end of the novel is particularly refreshing. The musical score, mainly made up of ‘life’ noises, keeps the film feeling alive and fresh as well.
Of course, you can’t leave out the acting. Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson play their parts well, though Jackson was the better performer in this case. With lesser actors, this would have easily turned into a boring college debate. Jones and Jackson elevate the film to the level the text challenges any actor to meet.
To me this was the right team for the job. The commentary track including Jones, Jackson, and McCarthy has a certain feeling of satisfaction with the final product as well. While not everything is perfectly translated, The Sunset Limited should not be missed. Watch it!