The Sunset Limited (Blu-ray Review)

Two celebrated actors, Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive, No Country for Old Men) and Academy Award nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), star in The Sunset Limited, a searing film that explores the ongoing debate between belief and atheism, afterlife and nihilism, salvation and suicide. The Sunset Limited mixes humor and pathos to examine the relationship between strangers brought together by desperate circumstances.  Set in a New York tenement apartment, the story focuses on two very different men – a deeply religious black ex-con (Jackson) who thwarts the suicide attempt of an asocial white college professor (Jones) who tried to throw himself in front of an oncoming subway train, The Sunset Limited.  The men lock themselves in a passionate philosophical exchange of opposing views, each seeking the language and inspiration that will convert the other.  The conflict reaches a shattering conclusion that leaves viewers thinking well after the final frame.


When I was offered the chance to review The Sunset Limited I jumped at the chance since it had two of my favorite actors in it –  Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones with Jones directing it which was another bonus.  I admired Jones’ last directorial effort The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada so I was pretty sure this would be the same kind of mature no nonsense film.  I was right about that but I wasn’t prepared for how deadly serious and challenging this movie is and just how demanding it would be.  This movie grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the very end.

The Sunset Limited takes place in the small tenement apartment of a character named Black (Samuel L. Jackson) who has just saved a man named White (Tommy Lee Jones) from killing himself by throwing himself in front of a subway known as The Sunset Limited.  After the rescue, the two men go to Black’s apartment where Black discovers that saving White’s life is nothing compared to saving his soul.  White is determined to kill himself and Black is just as intent on convincing him that life is worth living.  And so begins their philosophical battle that will either result in White’s suicide or his salvation.

For White, his entire life has been a disappointment even with his upper class life and education that most people would have appreciated.  Instead, his opinion of mankind has deteriorated so much that he wants nothing to do with people and he yearns for the solitude of death.  He believes that in death he will finally be free of everything he hates about others and himself.  “I yearn for the darkness,” he says. “I pray for death. Real Death. If I thought that in death I would meet the people I’ve known in life I don’t know what I’d do. That would be the ultimate horror.”  That attitude shocks Black, who happens to be an ex-con who spent time in prison for murdering someone, found God after being attacked in prison and almost killed.

Black emerged from prison a kinder and wiser man who believes that he’s heard God’s word and he’s determined to help his brothers and sisters of the world.  Because of that faith, Black keeps White as a virtual prisoner in his apartment while he tries to convince White that allowing God into his life would result in his salvation.  To White, there is no sign of God in a world that allows people to die in concentration camps like Dachau and has endless conflict that has resulted in millions of deaths.  Between the two, Black has the harder argument to win because it’s easy to point out what’s wrong with the world while it’s harder to prove that life is still worth living while acknowledging that White has a point.

For most of the movie’s running time, Black is extremely persuasive and his decency and good humor seem to give him an edge over Black’s intransigence.  When Black convinces White to eat some dinner with him and sees that White enjoys it, he believes that it might be the start of not only the salvation of White but also the possibility of a friendship as well.  What Black doesn’t realize is that although White has allowed Black to questions his motives and reasons for desiring to kill himself, he hasn’t fired back until he finally tires of hearing Black praise God one too many times.

Going on the attack, White verbally destroys Black who isn’t prepared for White’s considerable intellect and fury. White’s total conviction in his misanthropic beliefs shakes Black to his core.  As Jackson said in an interview later, “White spends a lot of time trying not to hurt Black’s feelings. He spends the majority of the time saying, ‘You don’t want me to tell you all this.’  But Black’s pushing buttons, until finally, White lowers the boom. He’s so intellectually superior, he knows how to make what he’s saying as scathing and as hurtful as it could possibly be. And Black has no idea of the depths of his despair.”

The acting in this movie is phenomenal and I can’t believe that it hasn’t garnered any awards for Jones or Jackson. Both men offer such powerful performances that really bring the characters to life.  Jones spends much of the movie listening to Black’s rhetoric and answering his questions with as few words as possible, until the end when he finally unleashes the rage and despair that he’s kept bottled up.  It’s not until that point that Black and the viewers realize just how dark White’s soul really is and how futile it is to convince him of the error of his ways.  Jones makes it all believable and the fact that he manages to add some dark humor to the part just proves what a master class actor he is.  As Black, Jackson is as engaging and just as mesmerizing to watch.  He also has a tricky part because his character runs the gamut from a folksy jovial man of God to a murderer when we get a glimpse of the man he used to be before he found the light when he talks about prison.  Neither man is completely right or wrong, but in the end both men will be forced to take a hard look at their beliefs and reaffirm them or admit defeat.


The movie’s 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks fantastic as it was shot digitally in high definition with Sony’s F35 Digital Camera that really challenges the oft mentioned statement that digital film can never look like film.  The clarity is extremely impressive with a ton of details discernible in every shot.  You can see every line and wrinkle in Jones’ haggard face as well as each individual whisker on both of their faces.  Colors a muted but deliberately so, as there instances where we see a flash or color that pops.  One thing that always used to bother me with movies filmed with digital cameras was the excessive noise during dark scenes, but that’s not an issue on this film.  Black levels are solid and never crushed and the contrast is impressive.  This is a movie filled with shadows and it looks amazing with no details lost or hidden.


The Sunset Limited’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is also excellent but not without a few flaws.  As this is a movie filled with nothing but an hour and half of talking, it’s no surprise that this is a front channel prioritized mix.  Dialogue is thankfully clear and understandable, which is important because you don’t want to miss any of acclaimed author Cormac McCarthy’s intelligent and thought-provoking lines.  This mix is unusual in the fact that much of what passes for the movie’s “score” is nothing but ambient noises which are intended to emphasize the claustrophobia that White feels.  There’s a cacophony of sounds ranging from subways rattling by to clocks ticking and people yelling and arguing outside the apartment.   These sounds are directed across the rear channels but lack the power that could have made it an even more immersive experience.  The rest of the score by Marco Beltrami blends in well with the man made wall of sound and the rest of the movie.  Overall this is a nice atmospheric mix that supports the movie in all of it’s subdued glory.


For a movie this good, I was really hoping for some real in depth extras but unfortunately that didn’t happen.  We get a very dry commentary and a very brief look behind the scenes.

  • Audio Commentary with Executive Producer/Director Tommy Lee Jones, Writer Cormac McCarthy and Samuel L. Jackson – I believe this is the most subdued commentary track that I’ve heard.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to discover that Jones is as taciturn in real life as he seems on screen, but I was surprised that even the gregarious Jackson couldn’t liven up the proceedings although he does his best.  After a bunch of long empty patches, Jackson becomes an interviewer just to get some words captured so we hear from Jones and McCarthy more than we probably would have otherwise.  There’s some good information here, but there’s way too many long pauses with no commentary which made me wish at least they would cheat and talk about what was happening on screen.  No dice.
  • The Making of the Sunset Limited – A five minute look into the making of the movie that includes comments from Jones, Jackson, and McCarthy.  The trio talk about the movie, the script itself, their rehearsal of the movie, and how the set was constructed.  This was nice to have but it as way to short and didn’t offer the substance that I wanted.


If there ever was a movie that proved that words can be weapons, it would be this devastating film with it’s philosophical ideas presented with great eloquence for both sides of the debate.  This movie should be shown in every acting class as it showcases two actors in their prime.  This Blu-ray nicely captures those performances with an amazing picture quality that brings the movie to life along with a strong audio mix too.  It’s a shame that there’s not more extras than this, but I will still recommend that you purchase this movie anyway just because it’s just that good.  I wish that there was more films this adult and challenging around.  Make sure you support it and buy a copy so we can see more of them!

Order your copy today!


Comments are currently closed.