Old Coot cinema seems the inescapable endgame for any venerable actor (see Peter O’Toole in Venus and Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, for two recent examples), so watching Hal Holbrook play the steely geezer du jour feels more inevitable than surprising. It’s a calculatedly unflattering stock role: a forlorn yet feisty man at the end of his years, who first resists and then comes to terms with a checkered life. He’s the kind of grandfatherly presence who connects with the younger generation (often represented by a girl emerging from her shy teen years) by giving them the courage to face their own demons; redeemed, he can then gird himself to shuffle off this mortal coil.
Adapting Southern author William Gay’s short story, writer-director Scott Teems suffuses That Evening Sun with a palpable regional languor that gives his fairly simple script more elegiac weight than it earns. Holbrook’s Abner Meecham squats on his former farm estate (now being sold to a man he considers white trash) and has little to do but squint and grunt at the indignity. The grizzled veteran actor, naturally, elevates the material like a pro, yet the entire exercise feels thin and reedy, trading in geriatric sentiment instead of hard-forged emotion.