Retrospective Film Review: Tommy Lee Jones’ The Sunset Limited.

Whilst it does seem that, sadly, Radio Drama seems to be in decline, Film and TV seem to be increasingly looking to the stage either as a source of inspiration. Most recently, Steven Spielberg turned out a faithful (yet anaemic) version of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, and Roman Polanski’s Carnage, based on the play by Yasmina Reza, opened to rave reviews. Here, Cormac McCarthy’s two-hander gets the HBO treatment – essentially a 90 minute, single-locationed filmed play.

Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson play ‘White’ and ‘Black’, the latter having just saved the former’s life as he tried to throw himself in front of a commuter train – the titular Sunset Limited – right before the story opens. Back at Black’s flat, the two trade volleys of bite-sized existentialism and debate the meaning of suffering, the human condition and where, if at all, they intersect with belief and spirituality. Like Estragon and Vladimir in the wasteland, the flat is set up to be some kind of limbonic waiting room, whilst outside we hear rain, car alarms, raised voices and finally a dawn chorus. There’s also something poignant about having two aged action-movie veterans inhabit the frame together. If it all sounds a little heavy and portentous, it is, but it’s also unsettlingly and seductively compelling.

Words: Ash Verjee