- Written and directed by Michel Franco
- Starring Tim Roth, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Iazua Larios
- Classification 14A; 82 minutes
- Opens April 8 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto, April 15 in other select Canadian cities; available on-demand starting April 29
If the name Michel Franco makes you shiver, then move along now. For the past decade, the Mexican filmmaker has become a polarizing figure in film-critic circles, with certain viewers taking immense umbrage at the man’s cruel streak.
Fair enough, given the ending of Franco’s 2015 character study Chronic and the entirety of 2020′s “eat the rich” thriller New Order, the latter of which nearly turned Franco into such a hated figure that I briefly considered a startup specializing in churning out Franco effigies. But where some moviegoers see a sadist, I see a master-class trouble maker – someone who is told repeatedly which buttons not to push but smashes down hard on them anyway, delighting in the chaos to follow and daring his audience to do the same.
His new film Sundown is both as mean as Franco’s reputation suggests and as compelling. While on vacation with his family at a high-class Mexican resort, the British slaughterhouse magnate Neil (Tim Roth) seems adrift from his surroundings. Something is off, but not necessarily in that typical middle-aged crisis manner.
When Neil’s family has to suddenly head back home to attend a funeral, Neil makes up an excuse about losing his passport, and quickly decides to make a new life outside his bubble of privilege. As his family beg him to come home, Neil loses himself in cheap bars and seedy hotels, eventually and somewhat preposterously starting an affair with a young local (Iazua Larios).
There is a twist that arrives two-thirds through Sundown that will either enrage you or make you chuckle, realizing all the bread crumb hints that Franco had dropped up till that point. And this far into this review, you likely already know which way you will go. On my end, Sundown works – Franco sells his story with just the right amount of malice, while Roth (who reunites here with his Chronic director) manages to find a peculiar amount of pain in a man sleepwalking through life. It might be the best work of the actor’s long career – or at least the most carefully controlled.
If you’re still curious, the film’s slender running time should help seal the pitch. Unlike Neil’s trip to Mexico, you don’t have to stay with Sundown longer than you might wish.
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