Movie review: Sundown is a minor mystery

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Tim Roth’s character is going AWOL, but why?

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In the beginning, To sleep plays as the most boring mystery ever. Tim Roth plays Neil Bennett, a wealthy Londoner vacationing in Acapulco with his sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and two children. When news arrives that their mother has died suddenly, everyone rushes home – except Neil, who says he can’t find his passport.

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But rather than looking for it after they’re gone, he does – well, very little. He settles in a shabby hotel. He hangs out on the beach, drinks beer. He begins a relationship with a local woman (Iazua Larios). Her sister’s increasingly frantic calls are met with bland responses about her passport search. Eventually, he even stops responding.

The mystery: why is he behaving this way? Has grief put him in some sort of runaway state? (The strange title, To sleepsuggests the kind of confusion some dementia patients experience at the end of the day.) Or is he just a supremely self-centered jerk?

Mexican writer/director Michel Franco doesn’t give us much. Roth’s character is certainly detached, but he is able to hold a simple conversation if necessary. Since the director has a fascination with class – his latest film, 2020 New order, was about a coup that took place at a wealthy family’s wedding – you might want to see Sundown through a Marxist lens. But there’s also a reference to medical bills that could mean something.

The ending is open, though I was amused to note that critics at the Venice and Toronto festivals, where the film premiered last fall, were split between those who thought it gave too much away. and those who felt left in the dark. I lean towards the latter camp, but enough happens in the last 10 minutes of the film to allow viewers to work out several theories and feel a slight sense of purpose. And Roth is excellent, showing just enough emotion to make us want more. To sleep is a movie that will keep you talking late into the night.

Sundown opens April 8 at the Bell Lightbox in Toronto, April 15 in Vancouver, April 24 in Calgary and April 29 on demand.

3 out of 5 stars

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