TV review: ‘The Sunset Limited’

Tommy Lee Jones, left, and Samuel L. Jackson star in The Sunset Limited.

It’s not easy to generate visual excitement out of a two-character drama that takes place entirely in a single room, and Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t really bother to try with his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s play The Sunset Limited. McCarthy himself wrote the teleplay, but it’s hard to imagine much alteration was needed—Jones and Samuel L. Jackson mostly just sit in various places around a sparse inner-city New York apartment, as their nameless characters debate philosophy, religion and the meaning of life. Jones’ atheist college professor has just attempted to commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train, only for Jackson’s ex-con and part-time preacher to catch him at the last minute. They each argue passionately for their own point of view, Jones espousing a bleak outlook on life in which death is the only escape, and Jackson advocating the embrace of faith and brotherly love.

The Details

The Sunset Limited
two and a half stars
February 12, 9 p.m., HBO

This being McCarthy, pessimism generally comes out ahead, although the real loser is communication, as the characters mainly talk in circles without really getting through to each other, and the mannered, repetitive dialogue wears on the viewer as much as it does on the characters. The movie feels stagey not only because of its limited physical scope, but also because of its stilted, formal speech, which Jones and Jackson deliver with an arch tone that often robs it of impact. As a director, Jones isn’t in the league of previous McCarthy adapters Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men) or John Hillcoat (The Road), but the material doesn’t really offer him much to work with.


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