‘The Evening Hour’ Review: The Warmest Movie You’ll Ever See About the Opioid Crisis

Sundance: Braden King’s sobering drama explores the skinny line between serving to and hurting.

Nearly actually the gentlest drama you’ll ever see about the collateral harm of the opioid disaster, Braden King’s “The Evening Hour” shines on a rural Appalachian city like a golden ray of fading daylight; as darkish as the story will get, this hyper-empathetic movie by no means fails to see its characters as respectable individuals attempting to make the better of a foul state of affairs. That is the form of film that opens with somebody studying a Bible verse over a shot of mountain grass swaying in the wind as the first woozy strains of Boxhead Ensemble’s rating put together to take your breath away.

Which isn’t to say that “The Evening Hour” elides the awfulness of the epidemic; that very same opening shot pans throughout the panorama in time to see an ominous explosion in the distance. Each body is saturated with a way of quiet desperation. The rival drug pushers inevitably pull their weapons on one another, and even the kindest intentions have a manner of souring into unhappiness. It’s simply that King and screenwriter Elizabeth Palmore — taking their cues from Carter Sickels’ 2012 novel of the similar identify — are much less considering the weight of all that ache than they’re in the way it’s shared amongst a group of shut households, previous flames, and new faces.

There generally is a skinny line between serving to and hurting somebody, and King’s movie is best when it explores how the mass proliferation of opioids has blurred that line to a repeatedly deadly diploma. If “The Evening Hour” usually loses sight of the massive image at any time when the plot begins to overpower its characters, that’s solely as a result of it might’t assist itself from falling into the similar entice that it identifies so nicely.

The film’s core heat radiates from Cole Freeman (the grounded Philip Ettinger), a candy and good-looking charmer whose one-day-at-a-time lifestyle couldn’t be additional faraway from that of the short-lived fatalist he performed in “First Reformed.” By day, Cole works as an aide at the native nursing dwelling, and he appears to genuinely take pleasure in his job; none of the different staffers are so pure or nice with the sufferers. By night time (or actually any time he’s off the clock), Cole makes the bulk of his money promoting Oxy to a few of the townsfolk he’s recognized his complete life. It’s a small operation that largely includes shopping for drugs off individuals with prescriptions — Cole by no means steals them from the nursing dwelling — and he’s genuinely involved for every of his prospects. If he wasn’t promoting to them, they’d should get their stuff from the space’s threatening kingpin (Marc Menchaca).

But when Cole retains issues on the down-low, his drug enterprise isn’t precisely a secret. His girlfriend Charlotte (Stacy Martin) is in on it — she clings to him the similar manner {that a} small-town cheerleader may cling to the high-school quarterback — and his childhood pal Terry Rose (“Girl Macbeth” breakout Cosmo Jarvis, made nearly unrecognizable by how naturally he wears the Rust Belt) comes again to city with the express intention of siphoning some cash from Cole’s new cashflow. It appears the solely individuals who don’t know the way he’s saving as much as transfer away are his grandparents, his co-worker Ellen (Ashley Shelton), and her good cop boyfriend (Ross Partridge). However issues are beginning to get out of hand — the sense of want is rising extra pressing by the minute. And when Cole’s mother (Lili Taylor) out of the blue returns dwelling from a number of years in absentia, it appears as if issues are about to boil over.

However “The Evening Hour” heats up slowly, as if it had been boiling its characters alive. Generally the film feels as if it’s not shifting ahead in any respect, solely sinking deeper into the floor. Declan Quinn’s dewy cinematography drinks in the native taste, the pure however evocative lighting serving to to separate the distinction between hope and hardship. Even at its most unmoored, the movie is buoyed by a vivid sense of place; it’s set in the form of city the place the bars are all wood-paneled, the neon indicators burn additional vibrant to distract individuals from the darkness round them, and all people is aware of all people’s enterprise. As “The Evening Hour” grows later, you begin to really feel when the air modifications; Cole’s mother reveals up in a purple sweater that cuts into the forest-green neighborhood like the total city is about to bleed.

And it does, but it surely turns into harder to hint that ache again to its wounds, particularly when the movie grows extra decided to articulate the imprecise sense of dwelling Cole has misplaced endlessly. Spotty flashbacks trace at a half-baked nostalgia, whereas an overextended forged of underdeveloped feminine characters pulls the story away from its middle. Taylor doesn’t get an opportunity to depart her mark as Cole’s estranged mother, as the film by no means follows by on the promise of her return. Martin is wholly plausible in the position of a lady who retains digging herself deeper as she tries to climb out of this sunken city — Charlotte epitomizes nearly everybody she is aware of, in that respect — however she fades into the background as soon as her perform is made clear.

However no one is extra wasted than the reliably winsome Kerry Bishé (“Halt and Catch Hearth”), who sparks the story to life as a brand new choice for Cole earlier than her subplot stalls out in a rush. It’s commendable how — even with such a CW-worthy forged of gorgeous individuals — “The Evening Hour” retains its romanticism considerably in verify. However the movie halfheartedly reaches in sufficient totally different instructions that it begins to really feel like extra of a sustained tone than a transparent narrative, and the Terry-centric third act lacks the heft and historical past that it must convey Cole’s journey dwelling. King clearly desires to do proper by these individuals, however at a sure level his empathy begins to harm the movie as a lot because it helps it, leaving us with the unsolvable irony of a film that rings true solely when it goes off the rails.

Grade: B-

“The Evening Hour” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Movie Pageant in the U.S. Dramatic Competitors. It’s at the moment searching for U.S. distribution.

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