Written and Directed by Michel Franco
Starring Tim Roth, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Iazua Larios, Henry Goodman, Albertine Kotting, and Samuel Bottomley
Neil and Alice Bennett are the core of a wealthy family on vacation in Mexico until a distant emergency cuts their trip short. When one relative disrupts the family’s tight-knit order, simmering tensions rise to the fore.
While I can’t admit to being a great admirer or robustly knowledgeable regarding the works of writer and director Michel Franco, I know his works are often nihilistic, deeply cynical, and unafraid to spotlight some harsh realities of Mexico (based on what I have seen, most notably last year’s harrowing New Order). Sundown doesn’t stray from that template, introducing viewers to a European family of four (it’s somewhat left vague in how they are related until the third act, so I won’t dive into that) vacationing in Acapulco, comprised of two middle-aged and two teenaged.
Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves on this retreat except Tim Roth’s Neil, who looks depressed and detached even when on a cruise or relaxing on the beach. Neil also is unfazed by the devastating news of a death in this family, the mother of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Alice. The younger boy offers more consolation than Neil, while the younger girl expresses panicked curiosity about what has happened. Putting it bluntly, Neil just doesn’t care. Frantically heading to the airport to return to London for funeral preparations, Neil casually mentions his passport is not in his bag. Due to the rushed nature of the situation, the family is forced to return home without Neil while he returns to the hotel, searching for the passport.
Unsurprisingly, Neil has no interest in getting on the next flight, taking this as an opportunity to be at peace on vacation truly. The performance from Tim Roth is largely restrained and fixated on body language, so there is some involvement noticing the subtle shift in his mood even if it’s always a relatively dialogue-free turn. It also helps that some tourist-friendly wide shots from regular cinematography collaborator Yves Cape capture that relaxation with artistic beauty (water crashes the shore of beaches with outside dining set up for margaritas and other drinks).
It also goes without saying that Neil is an incredibly selfish character making horrible decisions that Sundown more or less observes rather than judges. That’s also fine, as it could be wonderful to get in the mind of such an unlikable mindset and roll with his perspective. To the film’s credit, there is an attempt to grapple with why Neil is so gloomy, ultimately coming at the expense of embracing a far less interesting storytelling mode of rich people’s money problems. Neil’s guilt from acquiring misfortune, which involves a slaughterhouse, is even less explored.
Running concurrently with this storyline is rising crime on the beaches, as a murder occurs in broad daylight. And while it’s understandable that Michel Franco might have something pressingly real to depict about Acapulco, it comes across as shoehorned in tourist violence that doesn’t say much of anything about this place and time. Instead, the crime is woven into other aspects of the narrative that simply don’t feel earned. Toss in a surface-level sexual relationship with one of the locals and some other midlife crisis scares, only furthering how scattered and packed Sundown is for an 80-minute movie. Tim Roth makes it work for a while based on his acting and the intrigue of a man abandoning all responsibility without reason, but when those reasons come into play, Sundown loses its glimmer.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com