Neil Bennett is vacationing at a swank resort in Acapulco with his sister, Alice, and her two children.
A call comes. The family is needed back home. The four vacationers rush to the airport, where Neil says he’s forgotten his passport and tells the others to go on without him, that he’ll get on the next available plane.
Instead, he hangs out at the beach, knocking down beers and enjoying the views.
What is going on? Or, more specifically, what is going on with Neil?
Answers don’t come quickly, and it’s left to you to judge Neil – or not – as you await them in “Sundown” (R, 83 minutes, playing at the Cape Cinema in Dennis), a drama written and directed by Michel Franco (“New Order”). When you finally do get a better idea of the situation, you might ask yourself what you would do in a similar situation. Upon further reflection, you might realize, in a sense, you are already in his situation, and ask yourself what you are doing about it.
I’m being necessarily vague for fear of giving too much away. The mystery of Neil – played with appropriate restraint by Tim Roth – makes “Sundown” so compelling (and, by design, frustrating), while the revelations are subtly devastating (in this case, an appropriate oxymoron). It’s not that there’s some big twist – if you require one, odds are you’ll be disappointed. Filmmaker Franco has deeper things in mind than just surprising us.
Roth – well supported by Charlotte Gainsbourg as Alice and Iazua Larios as a Mexican woman with whom Neil connects – is brilliant as his enigmatic character. Neil seems to take life, for good or bad, as it comes, just doing whatever he feels like doing at any given moment. Is he cold? Is he extraordinarily selfish? Is he simply apathetic? Or is something much more complicated going on? Even after getting a sense of what’s making him tick, you might still wrestle with these questions. It also might make you slower to pass judgment on others.
That’s quite a gift for a movie to offer a moviegoer. “Sundown” is one of those movies that can stick with you, and enrich you, if you’re willing to put in the effort. And it’s definitely worth the effort. **** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 2 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org (archived shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/). He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.