Review: "The Sunset Limited"
Reason to watch: Two great actors have at it.
When/Where: Saturday night at 9 p.m. on HBO
'The Sunset Limited' for two on HBO
In this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 2006 play, a professor of philosophy has decided to kill himself by jumping in front of a train, The Sunset Limited. Just as he launches himself, a pair of hands reach out. The Good Samaritan who saves the stranger takes him back to his tenement apartment, where they talk through the night. The professor (Tommy Lee Jones) has long fantasized about his death; the whole fabric of Western civilization is a sham, the enormity of its depravity laid bare by the ovens at Dachau. All of human life (to paraphrase him) has brought us to the awareness of one thing: Futility. So, why live?
His savior, a worker on the railroad (Samuel L. Jackson), is an ex-con who served time for murder. He found Jesus in prison and wants the professor to embrace the warmth of God's love.
MY SAY: Two-person plays can be kind of a dialectic, where you start with opposing views and end up at a common point - or no place at all if you're waiting for Godot. But it's probably not wise to invest 90 minutes of your life in "The Sunset Limited" on the assumption it will end up at a happy place.
McCarthy ("The Road") does not do happy. He does do ambiguity. Jones' character, self-exiled from the human race, is a lumpen soul. His face sags with the knowledge of his utter solitude. His eyes are already dead. Jackson's character is animated with that deep unshakable faith in God and Jesus that some black Southern Baptists have (he's from Louisiana).
But while much of the play's voice, pathos, dignity and humor belong to him, don't assume "The Sunset Limited" is about the triumph of Christianity - or the triumph of anything for that matter.
BOTTOM LINE: Grim, but a chance to see two magnificent actors at the peak of their powers