Neil (Tim Roth) is just another millionaire on vacation in Mexico with his sister Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her children when his (well, their) mother dies. Alice of course returns home immediately to start making arrangements, but Neil fakes a passport emergency to stay behind. Why would Neil do that? Well, Neil’s not much of a talker, and believe me, his sister asks, REPEATEDLY. But all Neil wants to do is sit on the beach and drink Coronas out of a never-ending, tourist-priced bucket.
Well, drink beer, and fuck the locals, if we’re being perfectly frank. Bernice (Iazua Larios) in particular. She’s pretty happy to sit and drink beers with him, but the life he left back home is a little more exigent. If he was rich before, he’s now much richer; his wealth comes from some big company back home that’s now officially passed down to the next generation, to his, to him and his sister. Only Neil seems to have opted out. He hasn’t said it out loud, he just won’t engage and he won’t go home. He’s on perma-vacation.
Writer-director Michel Franco knows that life has a habit of catching up with us all. Even money can’t insulate us forever. Maybe money makes us particularly vulnerable.
Sundown features a very cool Tim Roth, maybe not at his Rothiest, but relaxed into a character stripped down to essentials, editing out the bullshit, but whose background is complex and whose life waiting at home is brimming. Unfortunately, I don’t count this among my favourites at TIFF this year. The writing wasn’t as clear as it needed to be; I spent the first bit of the film sorting out its basic elements, and then reassessing the film once I’d made some rather large adjustments. Crucially, it also lacked proper motivation. Man walks away from life. Okay, sure, that happens, in film as in life. But why? Neil is up to his eyeballs in privilege and wealth; has a very cushy life .He’s trading it in for a simpler one. There must be some reason for this, but Franco doesn’t want us to know it, doesn’t even want us to ask. Neil’s life is further wrinkled by the Mexican justice system. You can be sure he’ll call on all his resources to iron this out for him, but while this does introduce some conflict, it fails to culminate in any sort of reckoning.
Sundown is a movie without a message. Tim Roth can’t find meaning where it doesn’t exist. There are ingredients there, and while I admire a film maker who refuses to follow a recipe, I’d still like those ingredients to be mixed and baked. Franco leaves them raw. Sundown is watchable but ultimately pointless.