Last Saturday HBO premiered an original movie which has content quite rare for TV. The Sunset Limited has no car chases, no explosions, no nudity, no snarky irony, and no amply endowed young starlets. Based on a play by Pulitzer prize winning author Cormac McCarthy (arguably one of the best living writers in the U.S. today), the entire movie takes place inside a run down apartment near an urban subway station. There are only two characters; a college professor (White) played by Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed) and an ex-con (Black) played by Samuel L. Jackson. We never see the action that ignites the philosophical argument forming the core of The Sunset Limited. White tries to kill himself by jumping in front of a train, and Black saves him. They retreat to Black's apartment, where he spends the next hour and a half trying to convince the professor that life has value and God exists. His words (and performance) are riveting.
The argument is not new, or even original. What is faith? What happens after you die? What makes life worth living? Is God real? What makes this play so captivating, are the words, which dance and spin and terrify. Tommy Lee Jones doesn't speak his lines...he moans them. It isn't so much that life is awful, it's exhausting. Samuel L. Jackson is magnetic. He thunders, he begs, he swaggers across the room with faith that is sublimely confident. As the ex-con, he should be the threatening presence in the room, but he is instead the redeemer. Tommy Lee Jones is at once pitiful and malevolent. His character is wrongly named, for his steadfast conviction that life is meaningless is the dark force in the room.
If you love words, philosophy and world class performances, don't miss this drama on HBO. If you want to watch something that will make you think instead of sucking brain cells right out of your head, watch The Sunset Limited. You'll want to catch it now, because it will be reaping a boatload of Emmy Awards this September.