(2009) Drama (Freestyle) Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon, Walton Goggins, Mia Wasikowska, Carrie Preston, Barry Corbin, Dixie Carter, Barlow Jacobs, Anthony Reynolds, Brian Keith, Bruce McKinnon, William J. Mode, Jacob Parkhurst. Directed by Scott Teems
There isn’t always a reason why we hate other people. Developing a strong dislike might come out of having been wronged, or perceiving that we’ve been wronged. Sometimes it’s just instinctive, bad chemistry if you will. Other times, it’s because we see the worst aspects of ourselves, the ones we don’t like to face, in that other person.
Abner Meecham (Holbrook) is a crusty 80-something old cuss who decides to check himself out of the retirement home his feckless lawyer son Paul (Goggins) has placed him in and sets off back home to his farm in rural Tennessee.
Except it isn’t his anymore. His son has rented out the farmhouse to the Choat family, whose patriarch Lonzo (R, McKinnon) is not exactly on Abner’s Christmas list. In fact, the two men have an apparent history of intense dislike. Abner isn’t about to go crawling back to the home on hands and knees and decides to occupy an old tenant farmer shack on the property.
The other Choats, long-suffering wife Ludie (Preston) and friendly daughter Pamela (Wasikowska) are welcoming but Lonzo and Abner are pretty much like oil and gasoline. When Pamela mentions that Lonzo hates barking dogs, Abner persuades neighbor and friend Thurl Chessor (Corbin) to part with his loudest and most howl-prone dog that he owns. Abner takes great satisfaction in watching the noise driving Lonzo crazy.
It doesn’t take much to set them off and when Pamela returns from a date with a boy Lonzo doesn’t approve of, he beats her with a garden hose, turning on Ludie when she attempts to defend her daughter. Abner stops the abuse by shooting his pistol off. He calls the police on Lonzo and Ludie is furious that she has to bail her husband out of jail when they clearly not afford it.
When Lonzo returns home, things take a turn for the ugly. Stubborn old man takes on stubborn young man and the stakes grow progressively higher. Where will this escalating feud end?
Some will be reminded of the works of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. Certainly there are elements of Southern gothic here, although writer/director Teems doesn’t have the flair for dialogue that either of those great Southern writers possessed – of course, very few writers do.
The name of Hal Holbrook might not mean much to younger readers (although he did garner an Oscar nomination a few years back for Into the Wild) but older readers will know him for being one of America’s most authentic actors over the past 50 years. Now well over 80 himself, this is a role he is well-suited for. It isn’t his best performance ever (he is best known for his stage work in one-man shows about Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln) but it’s right up there.
Like many plays and stories set in the Deep South, there is a certain languor that comes from the sound of cicadas and hot breezes that permeates the film. That pace might be intolerable for those used to having their film action served up at warp speed. Things unfold here rather than occur; the feeling winds up being more organic than forced, but it takes a bit of patience to get from start to finish.
Sometimes I’m in a mood to let a story just wash over me, and this one certainly does the trick. Having the great Hal Holbrook in the cast is a gigantic plus and although most of the rest of the cast (including the very talented Mia Wasikowska in a Lolita-esque role) doesn’t stand up to Holbrook’s performance, nobody disgraces themselves either. I would have preferred to see a bit more on the backstory of Lonzo and a bit more of Abner’s relationship with his wife (Carter) but even so there is plenty here to interest even the casual moviegoer.
WHY RENT THIS: Holbrook is one of America’s greatest actors and any chance to see him is worth taking. Fans of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams might get a kick out of this.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Slow moving and a bit on the Southern gothic side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of bad language, a little bit of sexuality, a little bit of violence and some mature thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Dixie Carter’s final film appearance. Ironically she plays Holbrook’s deceased wife here; in real life, she was married to Holbrook.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $281,350 on an unreported production budget; my guess is that the movie lost money.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: Killer Elite