Michel Franco’s Sundown clocks in at 83 minutes but feels like it takes an eternity to reach its destination. Despite two caliber actors in Tim Roth and Charlotte Gainsbourg and a beautiful setting in Acapulco, this film goes nowhere fast. And while both Roth and Gainsbourg can stand out amongst a lackluster effort, neither of them is given much with which they can work.
Roth and Gainsbourg play Neil and Alice Bennett, who are part of a wealthy family vacationing in Acapulco with two grown children (Samuel Bottomley and Albertine Kotting McMillan). On the surface, things seem fine. This family is enjoying a nice vacation with little to worry about. And then Alice gets a phone call. Someone for whom she cares (presumably, her mother) is in the hospital, and the family has to rush back home. But Neil states he forgot his passport and will catch up with them later. Insert Ron Howard’s Arrested Development narration: Neil doesn’t.
Franco gives the viewer so little to care for. While it’s appreciative that Sundown doesn’t unload a bunch of heavy exposition, there’s this feeling of disinterest that resonates with the film for its entire runtime. When Neil decides to depart from his family and rather spend his time drinking and walking the beach, the viewer is left to question the decisions he is making. They’re also left to question if they should be championing someone who is as morally bankrupt as Neil. Not only does he not rush back to his family’s side; he also starts a little fling with Bernice (Iazua Larios), a nearby shopkeeper.
It’s not revealed until later that Neil and Alice are actually brother and sister. It was their mother that was in the hospital. With each big reveal, it becomes more of a test of the viewer’s patience. Franco’s approach is somewhat admirable in that he doesn’t consider audience members to be idiots. However, it is also extremely frustrating. In the moments when we’re waiting to find out why certain decisions are being made, there’s not much else to latch onto. The relationship between Neil and Bernice is underdeveloped. His moments on the beach carry no weight to them. That is until a random gang attack happens just a few feet from where he’s standing. A shock? Yes. Does it add anything to the rest of the film? Not really.
Roth gives a blank-faced performance through every moment of Sundown. When Alice is yelling at him over the phone or in person, he comes across as detached. When he spends time with Bernice, he’s a polar opposite in terms of personality. And there’s a reason for all of his apathy, as Franco reveals in the final minutes of the movie.
No spoilers here, but the concluding twist lands with a giant thud. This is most likely not what Franco had in mind when crafting the screenplay. But when it takes a long time to have people figure out why they should care, that is how it will result.