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TV Review: The Sunset Limited Far From It

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The only thing limited about HBO’s television movie The Sunset Limited is the setting. OK, I guess the costumes are, too. The entire hour and a half takes place in a sparse, single room of a small apartment in New York City. Two characters, listed merely in the credits as White and Black, discuss god and existence, as well as Black’s stint in prison and White’s empty life. It’s one continuous conversation, with no act breaks or time jumps.

But how fascinating! Apparently, just before the story begins, Black has rescued White from a suicide attempt. Black is keeping White talking in his apartment, presumably so that White doesn’t try again. As such, there is a subtext under laying everything that is going on. But that isn’t nearly as neat as the actual words being said. Black talks a lot more than White, but they get into stuff such as books, including the Bible, and the afterlife, that are just plain gripping. I haven’t seen a show that is so intense with such little action since In Treatment.

Samuel L. Jackson plays Black, and Tommy Lee Jones plays White. Besides the writer, they can take much credit for the success of the piece. Both show their chops, conveying a lot with just a little. They also makes the characters seem real and effortless. Not once during the show did anything they do take me out of the moment. I had to stop and remind myself that these were just two characters in the hands of veteran actors. They were both so authentic, really bringing to life the two distinct points of view.

A major component of the movie, taken from a play, is religion. Black is a devout Christian, converted during his time in prison serving a murder sentence. He lives a simple life devoted to Jesus. White is an intellectual aethist, shaped that way by his pursuit of academia (he is a college professor). But both are smart, and open to hearing the other, even though neither will be convinced of the other’s opinions. Nor do either one descend into stereotype. They hold personally chosen values, not ones spouted by a religious leader that they embraced. Jackson and Jones make you believe what their characters believe, and neither viewpoint comes out looking better than the other.

I expect awards will be heaped upon The Sunset Limited, and deservedly so. I will be surprised if it isn’t recognized. Just for the sheer drama of the debate, it deserves it. Check out The Sunset Limited during one of its many repeats on HBO in the cominc weeks.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome is the creator and writer of It's All Been Done Radio Hour, a modern scripted live comedy show and podcast in the style of old-timey radio serials, and the founder of the Columbus-based entertainment network, IABDPresents. He is also the Chief Television Critic for Seat42F.com and a long-time contributor for Blogcritics. Plus, he works fiction into his space time. Visit http://iabdpresents.com for more of his work.
  • Teresa

    Great “spot on” review, totally agree!!

  • Denise

    My husband and I really enjoyed “The Sunset Limited. These two men are outstanding actors.

  • What makes the movie worthwhile is the great acting of Jackson and Jones. They bring life to the characters in the limited setting. While maybe not for everyone, it is another in a line of movies that focus on thoughtful and intelligent dialogue.

  • J.G


  • Abweisung

    I honestly expected more from this review, and others, relating to this film; they are rather..superficial at best.

    You paint a simple picture of the movie; two guys in a room arguing about existence, god, what have you, but it is much much deeper than that, and I implore you all to watch this movie again until you’ve captured it perfectly.

    I’m sure there are reviews that are more in depth, and various people can spout out it’s deeper meanings; but I feel that would negate a crucial aspect of the movie.

  • I am sorry my review did not live up to your standards. Unfortunately, trying to cover a broad spectrum of TV, I do not always have time to go really deep into everything I watch. That goes doubly true on TV movies, as my focus is generally serial TV. I try to be fair, and at least give coverage to deserving entertainment, such as this one. I agree, it is a truly excellent movie, and my purpose in writing this review was to give a small taste of what it was about, and encourage people to watch it. I hope that it has served that purpose, and encourage you to write a more in-depth coverage and send me a link. I would be interested to see what you thought.