“The Sunset Limited” – 2011. Dir. Tommy Lee Jones


With Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson

Written by Cormac McCarthy

“I long for Darkness. I pray for death, real death. And if I thought that in death I would meet the people I knew in life, I don’t know what I would do. That would be the ultimate horror, the ultimate nightmare. If I thought I was gonna meet my mother again an’ start all of that over, only this time without the prospect of death to look forward to… that would be the final nightmare. Goddamn Kafka on wheels.” – White (Tommy Lee Jones)


Two men meet by a matter of chance. The two men have no names, we know nothing about them – all we know is what we see. The only back story we are given is what the characters pry out of one another. White (Tommy Lee Jones) is dubbed professor, we’re lead to believe that he’s a professor – though we’re never told what of – but from the way he speaks about his view points, my guess would be philosophy. He’s an idealist that’s lost his passion for life. Black (Sam Jackson) is nameless, and we don’t know what he does, though he’s dressed as a blue collar worker. He reveals later on that he was in jail, and had killed a man.

Prior to us viewing White and Black at Black’s apartment; they were both in the subway and White tried to jump in front of the oncoming train, the Sunset Limited, and Black saved him.

What transpires for 90 minutes is a fucking clinic. The foundation of this is Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant play (which he updated for the film). The men cover a wide array of subjects, but the basis of their conversation revolves around religion – more specifically the belief in God.

Black believes that it was God’s will for him to save White, and White doesn’t believe in God. He finds the idea of faith inconceivable. White comes off as someone who believes they are too smart to actually believe in God, and anyone with low intelligence believes in God. Maybe not as much low intelligence but lower class (which Black most certainly is).

Watching this film reminds you of what an excellent actor Sam Jackson really is. He usually plays it safe (or plays for a paycheck) but every once in a while he takes on a role that challenges him, and reaffirms that he’s such a gigantic actor.

Tommy Lee Jones is very subtle in the movie; he’s low key and is mainly playing off of Sam Jackson until the third act. In the third act is when Jones kicks it up and we really start to find out what kind of person White really is.

The writing is fantastic. Watching this film is like watching “Network”, “All That Jazz” or “Pulp Fiction”; you just can’t believe what you’re seeing – nothing is predictable and the road you’re riding keeps veering off course. This is an unbelievable slow burn of a ride.

The way Tommy Lee Jones and Sam Jackson embody the characters that McCarthy has constructed for us is something to marvel at. Anyone who would ever be interested in acting needs to watch this film. It’s striped down to one set, one costume, one scene – that relies solely on Jones and Jackson.

If this film were released theatrically (it’s an HBO film) it would sweep every single writing award and solidify that both Jackson and Jones would be nominated for Best Actor, along with Jones for directing. Tommy Lee Jones is a FANTASTIC director. His eye is very unique, the way he moves the camera, sets the camera – it’s near perfect. If you haven’t seen Jones “Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” – you need to see it. It’s one of the best films from the last decade.

If you like a good slow burn, and movies with characters that don’t really do much but talk – then you need to see this ASAP. It’s a talkie, but it wouldn’t work any other way.

Rating: 10/10

Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

7 thoughts on ““The Sunset Limited” – 2011. Dir. Tommy Lee Jones”

    1. I had the opposite feeling almost. I didn’t like Jackson’s character until the end – and even with the ending, I felt for both characters.

      It’s a pretty tough character study to watch.

      1. My argument is Jones listening to Jackson’s theories doesn’t cause him any anguish. He’s an atheist, he’ll leave an atheist. But by lambasting Jackson with “every friendship you’ll have, every love, it will all end in death and nothingness,” that’s evil.

  1. I thought that this film was a nice debate on the truth of where our faith lies, and both actors do great jobs with this material. But it just feels like a play, and sometimes that works, here, not so much. Good Review!

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