Written by Patrick Hao
Movies haven’t quite gotten a handle on how to portray the ongoing opioid epidemic in America, especially with how it affects the rust belt states. Ben is Back and Beautiful Boy falls into cloying sentimentality, and Hillbilly Elegy and Cherry were grotesque caricatures meant for the rich coastal elites to feel better about themselves. Braden King’s The Evening Hour is a more compassionate and thoughtful film about the opioid crisis, but it never reaches anything beyond its modest ambitions.
The film centers on Cole Freeman (Phillip Ettinger), a compassionate elder care nurse who buys unwanted opioid pills from his patients in order to sell to others. He views his deeds as a service to help the ailing unidentified town in Appalachia, helping those who are injured or the hopelessly addicted. Freeman rather they get the drugs from him than the local drug kingpin, Everett (Marc Menchaca), who tolerates the petty competition. Unfortunately, any sense of balance or happiness is disrupted when Freeman’s absent mother (Lili Taylor) comes back to the town, as well as a former high school friend Terry (Cosmos Jarvis) who wants a piece of the larger drug trade.
Through Freeman, a mosaic is painted of the town, from party girl Charlotte (Stacy Martin) to an eccentric fellow caregiver Reese (Michael Trotter). Kerry Bishé (who is always great and should be a household name) especially shines as someone who could have gotten away but had to come back. Based on a novel by Carter Sickels, The Evening Hour feels like an adaptation of a literary work. Supporting characters do not get enough moments to gain the interiority a novel may afford them. Freeman simply bounces around to each character interaction as if they were video game NPC’s.
King is empathetic and respectful to the people who populate his movie. The film does not pass judgment on anyone. It recognizes the underlying pain of economic hardship and a political system that has passed them by. Yet, King never delves into histrionics like in Hillbilly Elegy, just quiet perseverance and a will to survive. Even the moral quandary Freeman faces about his culpability in people’s addictions is left open-ended and without judgment.
But these virtues also lead to the film’s largest problem – it is patient and subtle to a fault. The film is all atmosphere underscored by the lilting strums of frequent King collaborators, Boxhead Ensemble. As the film turns to its more crime thriller elements at the end, King continues to underplay it. Instead of a tense Cormac McCarthy-esque final third act, the film’s conclusion is staid and unaffecting.
There is an urgent need for a great movie about the present opioid crisis – one that deals with the complications and systems that underlies. This film at least treats these characters with the humanity that is often forgoed by more mainstream Hollywood far. However, despite the good intentions of the filmmakers, The Evening Hour is far too restrained to ever be great.
The Evening Hour Trailer
The Evening Hour opens in limited release in New York on July 30th.