“Sundown” is so adamantly distant and opaque in terms of attitude and narrative that you may find yourself constantly wondering about how it really regards the elusive behaviors of its exasperatingly self-absorbed hero. To be frank with you, I am not so sure about whether it actually has any idea or opinion despite a few striking moments, and I must confess that I merely observed its story and hero with increasing detachment, though, to some degree, I appreciate how it competently catches us off guard from time to time.
At first, the movie looks at how its hero spends a family holiday along with his three family members. While his sister and her two children are willing to enjoy all those luxuries they can get during their ongoing stay at some posh hotel in Acapulco, Mexico, Neil (Tim Roth) is not so interested in getting any fun or relaxation in contrast, and the camera phlegmatically observes how he goes through one sunny day after another without much enthusiasm.
And then something occurs unexpectedly on one day. His sister receives a call from London, and she is devastated to learn that their mother becomes gravely ill and then is being sent to a hospital. She decides that they all should go back to London as soon as possible, so they promptly leave for the airport, but, alas, she and Neil are soon informed that her mother died shortly after being taken to the hospital.
While his sister becomes more devastated than ever, Neil remains quite detached as before, and then he tells her that he somehow forgot to bring his passport. Although she says that she and her children may wait for another plane while he gets back his passport, he insists that she and her children should go now, so she and her children eventually get on the plane to London while he supposedly goes back to the hotel.
However, it soon turns out that Neil actually lied to his sister. Once he gets on a taxi, he instructs its driver to take him to any hotel available, and the driver takes him to a rather cheap hotel which looks quite shabbier compared to his previous staying place. While not minding this big environmental change at all, he simply goes through one day after another as before, and he even comes to befriend a young local woman he later happens to encounter.
Of course, his sister begins to call him as handling the aftermath of their mother’s death, but Neil keeps lying to her as giving several false excuses, and he also does not give a damn about whatever is happening around him. At one point, he and others around him are suddenly struck by one very nasty incident, but that does not seem to shake him up at all, and he just continues to stick to his current status.
While making us more wondering about the reasons behind his adamant detachment, the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer/co-editor Michel Franco gradually lets its hero roll down into more misery and suffering. There eventually comes a point where his sister becomes frustrated with him and consequently decides to take care of the matter for herself, but that does not seem to affect him at all, and she becomes all the more exasperated than before, though he is willing to sign on anything necessary for him to let himself free of everything in his life.
Now some of you may guess a bit on what a privileged life Neil probably had before becoming a major headache for his sister, who is apparently the head of their big family company. I will not go into details here not for spoiling anything for you, but I can tell you at least that Neil comes to suffer more as trying to walk away from his privileged status, and that is where he comes to show a bit more emotion than before.
Nevertheless, the movie stays on its detached mode even as things get worse and worse for its hero, and it also becomes harder for us to care about him. Sure, we may feel a bit sorry for whatever he is actually suffering behind his disaffected façade, but he is still more or less than your typical privileged Caucasian male, and the movie does not seem to decide on whether it should care or laugh about his ongoing plight. It tries a few surreal touches later, but these touches do not fit well with its cold-blooded objective attitude to the story and characters, and the finale fizzles without much dramatic impact even though it gives us some hint on why Neil has been so detached from the very beginning.
Anyway, the movie is carried fairly well by the solid lead performance from Tim Roth, who has always been good at exuding weary detachment without overemphasizing it. Whenever the camera looks at his face, you can always get some subtle sense of whatever his character is feeling and thinking, and Roth’s engaging presence makes the film worthwhile to watch to some degree, while also reminding us again of how this wonderful British character actor has been consistently interesting for more than 30 years.
On the whole, “Sundown” has several good things to admire besides Roth’s commendable efforts, but it does not satisfy me enough for recommendation, and I am also quite dissatisfied with how the movie under-utilizes Charlotte Gainsbourg and several other performers around him. At least, I did not grumble that much as going through its rather short running time (82 minutes), and it is a bit better than Franco’s obnoxious previous film “New Order” (2020), so I will let you decide on whether you will spend some time on this competent but ultimately superficial cinematic exercise.