‘Thank you for coming with us’ Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) says to Neil (Tim Roth) at dinner with her two teenaged children Colin (Samuel Bottomley) and Alexa (Albertine Kotting McMillan) at a very exclusive resort in Acapulco. At first this comment seems odd, until we understand that Neil is Alice’s brother and not her husband. But things really take a strange turn when Alice gets an emergency call about their mother and, upon arrival at the airport, Neil claims to have forgotten his passport at the hotel, insisting his family leave without him. Our suspicions are verified when Neil directs a taxi driver to take him to a hotel and checks into a seedy city beachfront property in “Sundown.”
Laura's Review: B
If writer/director Michel Franco made his points about wealth inequality, power and corruption with a sledgehammer in his last, "New Order,” here he takes a very different approach, one which requires a little more effort to unravel its meaning. “Sundown” isn’t as successful as his last with its discordant mixture of mysterious behavior gradually revealing new observations about excessive wealth and blatant fantastical symbolism seemingly dropped in from left field, but for those willing to give it some thought, the film has its rewards.
The first image we see is fish gasping for air on the deck of a boat, Neil (Tim Roth) the only passenger of the private charter who appears to notice. The foursome loll by the sea or by a pool, private waiters serving margaritas for breakfast. They are part of an audience seated at balconies to watch the daring cliff drivers like Romans viewing gladiators from afar for entertainment, although these locals are tipped. Then one phone call upends all their lives.
They haven’t even made it to the airport when Alice’s reaction to a second phone call tells us they are too late to say goodbyes. But while Neil makes empathetic gestures, his manner is oddly removed as he lets Jorge "Campos" Saldaña (Jesús Godínez) choose his hotel. He is fussed over by local vendors when he sits on a beach crowded by locals, at least until he takes up with Bernice (Iazua Larios), the proprietress of a corner convenience store who shoos off the more egregious hucksters. Calls from Alice increase in frequency, Neil assuring her he is trying to get his passport resolved with the local consulate. After a few days, Neil turns his phone off and puts it in a bedside drawer.
One day, as Neil sits on the beach watching Bernice in the water, a furious Alice appears at his side, demanding to know just what he is doing. With her second appearance, we learn the siblings are heirs to a billion dollar slaughterhouse business, one which Neil is quite willing to simply sign away. But his naïve remove from real world realities has tragic consequences and reasonable suspicions land him in a Mexican jail until family lawyer Richard (Henry Goodman) manages to get him out. Richard drops another clue; Neil once again makes an unexpected decision.
If the taciturn Neil didn’t occasionally respond in a normal matter, it would be tempting to compare him to Chauncey Gardiner (with Henry Goodman in the Richard Dysart role), so abstracted is Roth’s characterization. But as Franco is once again contrasting the lives of the wealthy and powerful with the common man, Neil is a representation of how money cocoons people from reality. Neil may appear cruel at times, but as his needs have always been anticipated, he has no concept of how other people live. Franco suggests the man does feel remorse over how the family has made its money, dropping live pigs into two scenes in the film’s second half, comparing these highly intelligent animals which are led to slaughter with the Mexicans Neil interacts with, a lower class upon which the upper class feeds. Information provided upon the third such occurrence, where the pig in question has been disemboweled, reveals Neil as a man desperately trying to connect with what is important in life. Roth’s almost somnambulant performance is another reflection on the influence of unimaginable wealth, one which he sprinkles with just enough glimmers of compassion to allow us to see Neil’s soul.
Robin's Review: B
A wealthy family - a brother (Tim Roth) and sister (Charlotte Gainbourg) and her two kids (Albertine Kotting McMillan and Samuel Bottomley) - are on vacation in warm and sunny Acapulco when a phone call from home abruptly changes their plans. In the rush to get back, Neil tells his family he left his passport back at the hotel and sends the rest on their way. Instead of finding his way home, though, he gives up his wealth and goes native in “Sundown.”
You have to be patient as you watch this life crisis story that could be called “Five Easy Pieces Goes to Mexico” in this tale of a man who breaks with his well-to-do and privileged life and becomes a local in a Mexican town. As soon as he sends his family on their way home, I assumed it was for his own selfish reasons.
This is where the patience comes in to play as writer-director Michel Franco subtlety plays out this life crisis tale and I, as the viewer, found my assumptions about Neil shifting and changing. They are not what you first believe they are and this is due, I think, to the skilled direction and writing by Franco and an unexpectedly subdued, but poignant, performance by Tim Roth.
The production, as the story unfolds, shifts from the luxurious digs the family has in a posh Acapulco resort to a cheap motel where Neil decides to live. As he settles in to his new life, he meets Bernice (Iazua Larios), a local young woman who takes a liking to the taciturn Neil. But, this is not the end of the story as our perception of the man form and change.
While Tim Roth plays the center character, Neil, it is the careful use of supporting cast that fleshes things out well. Charlotte Gainbourg, as his in-charge sister Alice, is a possible reason why he would want to give up his pampered life. But, Iazua Larios as Bernice is a life force herself and another reason why he would sacrifice almost everything. There is also the appeal of sitting on a sunny beach with a bucket of beers by your side.
It is early in 2022 and subtle performances are not usually remembered at the end of the year. But, I will definitely keep Tim Roth in mind for his first rate character study of a man who is…. Well, you will have to see “Sundown” to find out.
Bleecker St. releases “Sundown” in select theaters on 1/28/22 and on digital platforms on 2/17/22.