Review: ‘Sundown’

Tim Roth Suffers In Silence In Michel Franco's Acapulco-Set Thriller

The best thing I can say about Sundown, the latest nihilistic social thriller from Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco (After Alice), is that the less you know going in, the more it will rope you in. There are some wild swerves thrown your way and they come after deep lulls of nothingness, followed by an ambiguity that makes you wonder whether there was ever meant to be more to it than staring at Tim Roth’s sad face and taking in the Acapulco views.

Roth, whose characters always amount to a certain level of sleeze, plays Neil Bennett. Neil is on Acapulco vacation with his family, but it soon becomes clear his other, Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), isn’t his wife. She’s his sibling, there with her two kids enjoying a place in which the divide between the haves and have-nots is stark, and getting worse. Acapulco, once a place regarded as an escape for the elite of the elite, has mostly become recognized as a drug and violence capitol of the world in recent years. But Neil and Alice are safely away from such things in their resort haven, where the lives of the brown people surrounding them amount to little.

It’s clear right away that Neil is disengaged from this whole thing. When a phone call alerts them to a familial tragedy, one that necessitates they leave right away, Neil’s disinterest is palpable. His sister is distraught, especially after a second call confirms the worst.  And yet, things find a way to sink lower into misery. Arriving at the airport, Neil claims to have misplaced his passport. He’ll have to catch up with them at a later flight.

Once they’re gone, it’s straight to the nearest hotel. Not one in a swanky resort. But one in the middle of the less savory part of town. Neil ain’t shit, yo. He answers his sister’s calls, feeds her some b.s. about dealing with the consulate to get a new passport. Soon, he doesn’t even bother answering. Instead, he picks up a local girl, Berenice (Iazua Larios), and starts a purely sexual relationship with her. Or, at least, it’s purely sexual because we learn next to nothing about her or the other brown locals Neil befriends, some of which are sketchy at best.

The lack of interest in Neil’s surroundings is commentary in and of itself, about the disinterest affluent white vacationers have about the people they encounter and the places they visit. At one point, a violent outburst occurs beachside and it’s just another day in Acapulco. The blood is spilled and everyone moves on, the sun-kissed surf mixed with the shadow of indifference by cinematographer Yves Cape.

Another act of violence hits closer to home, and again, Franco leaves us to ponder just how deep this goes. I began to wonder whether this was some kind of veiled uprising film, with the working class striking back against the rich, similar to Franco’s brilliantly intense, scalpel sharp New Order. Where the plot actually goes is best left unsaid, but I wish Franco could have gotten there more dilligently. While only clocking in at around 83-minutes, Sundown is extremely thin on plot and underwritten in a way that isn’t always a tease. Sometimes it just feels incomplete. Roth delivers in a role that doesn’t require him to do much but be a recepticle for our judgements and preconceived notions. There are few actors better at illiciting just such a reaction; and while it’s occasionally interesting to watch Roth eat, sunbathe, and screw his way into silent oblivion, Sundown is one trip you’ll be glad is a brief one.

 

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Sundown
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.