TV Review - The Sunset Limited

Tommy Lee Jones directed for HBO this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's play, which stars Jones as a college professor who tries to commit suicide by leaping in front of a subway train. A passerby, played by Samuel L. Jackson, saves the professor and brings him back to the Harlem apartment where the entire movie takes place. Each man's name is never spoken, but the whole thing is one-long, single conversation of the passerby trying to convince the professor that he shouldn't try to kill himself.

For the first hour, that conversation was very interesting, and both Jones and Jackson perform itn very well, and it is a performance, particularly on Jackson's part. From his mannerisms to his speech patterns, Jackson lets us know who this passerby is, even before we're given details like his family is from the south and that he used to be in prison.

Jones' character isn't revealed really until the very end and what he reveals is done so in a devastating monologue that is nothing less than a knockout punch. The monologue is a final argument in an examination of religion and faith that settles things and rather un-settles things powerfully. Yet, McCarthy does give the other side great weight as well.

There have been many stage-to-film adaptations. Most expand the scenery, the locations and the actions. This one doesn't. Much like the play, this movie keeps both men locked in a room, and merely have them talk and debate. As odd as it sounds, that talk-and-debate has the intelligence and the intricacy of 12 Angry Men. It also has the tension and playfulness of something like The 24th Day, which is also a play about two men locked in an apartment.

Jones, as a director, does what he can so that it doesn't feel like two men trapped in a room. He uses nothing more complicated than simple camera moves and a sound design that helps us connect to the actors. Allowing for that connection, the actors can teleport us and keep us riveted to their every word.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins.
Available on DVD.


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