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From Cormac McCarthy, author of No Country for Old Men and The Road comes this searing two-character drama about the choice people frequently make; to go on or give in to despair. Set in a New York tenement apartment, the story focuses on two very different men, a black ex-con (Samuel L. Jackson) who claims to hear the voice of Jesus, and the white professor (Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones) he stopped from throwing himself in front of an oncoming train, The Sunset Limited. What follows is a philosophical debate with incredibly high stakes - can Black convince White that life is worth living, that once he goes out that door he should not head for a return date with the Sunset Limited? Souls are bared and secrets shared, with Black's faith increasingly challenged by White's bleak but meticulously reasoned view of a world gone wrong. The conflict reaches a shattering conclusion that will leave you thinking well after the final frame. (From the HBO synopsis)

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The Sunset Limited was originally "a novel in dramatic form" from Cormac McCarthy, published in 2006. Tommy Lee Jones is no stranger to the material. He gave one of his finest performances in the Coen Brother's adaptation of No Country For Old Men. Here, he works with McCarthy's words again, both behind and in front of the camera. Things started off a little clumsily for me. At first dialogue felt a little off, as if the actors were hurrying to get through it under the runtime. But once the characters settle into the environment and start going into their respective back stories and philosophies, I was glued to my seat. The characters of Black and White make for an interesting combination. White is an educated professor who has given up on life because he feels enlightened to the sad reality of the world. Black is a poor ex-con who scrapes by, giving his free time and hospitality to the junkies and lost souls that he crosses path with. Tonight, those druggies are replaced by a an intellectual who is capable of challenging Black's optimistic notions about the goodness of mankind, the morality of suicide, and the existence of God.

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Watching the men dual beliefs and unravel one another is absolutely fascinating. Jones and Jackson are two veteran actors, and they meet their match in McCarthy's absorbing prose. The actors and the material are a perfect compliment to one another. The 90-minute film features only the two actors and takes place in a single room, but it manages to be more tense and captivating than most big budget summer blockbusters thanks to the powerful language of Cormac McCarthy. Those familiar with his literary work know that he isn't afraid to go into dark territory, and even though this is formed as a modest dramatic stage piece, some of the writing goes into extremely bleak segments. I could barely blink as Black shared one of his prison experiences, or when White goes on a tirade about the sickness of the world and how he longs to embrace death. I had no idea how it would play out in the end, and even though there were really only two possibilities, I was still surprised and impressed at how he chose to wrap up the story. The material is challenging and thought-provoking, and if you're able to get over the simplicity of the production there's a mesmerizing experience waiting for you.

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HBO releases The Sunset Limited on a BD-25, which is plenty of disc space for a film of this nature and a couple of special features. The video was recorded on a Sony F35 digital camera and is presented here in 1080p. I'm not too familiar with this camera, but it doesn't appear to have quite as much image depth as the Red, nor does it have the same impressive black levels, but the detail is fine and colours are rich. The set is mostly made up of impoverished browns and greys, with eye-catching reds. You can make out all the weathered lines on the actor's faces and see every strand in their rugged facial hair. The camera stays close to the actors most of the time, but when it does take a step back the small details and edges look softer and closer to a 35 mm appearance than digital. There is a lot of digital noise in the darker areas of the picture, but it is consistent and never too distracting. Digital artefacts aren't much of a problem, but I did notice some blocking in the background of one brief shot.

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The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track took my by surprise. I was expecting to write a paragraph here about how this is a talky movie and dialogue leaves are all that matter, etc. The dialogue levels are great, but the sound department on this TV movie had much more on their mind than the spoken words. You can almost always hear things going on in the background. A lot of it takes place outside the window. There are police sirens passing by, the gentle patter of rain, and even the cranked-up bass of a passing vehicle down on the street which makes a presence in the LFE channel too. There's a few instances where you can hear the neighbors fighting and throwing things around. One of them plays what sounds like an old trumpet. The sounds of the other tenants make their way around the rear channels. You can even hear a subtle rumble of plumbing. Marco Beltrami's ( Hurt Locker, Terminator 3) score doesn't make itself known often, but there's a few scenes where it swells up with a rapturous organ or an ominous long note that helps to add gravity to the scene. The audio score here is relative. This isn't an audio track that will change the way you look at sound design in movies, but the thought and meticulous detail here goes far and above what is expected given the material.

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The Audio Commentary with Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson and Cormac McCarthy is a relaxed and informative track. The three of them recorded the track together, which is always nice. Tommy Lee Jones mostly sticks to talking about the filming process and the lighting, serving as a director commentary more than as an actor. They talk about their personal experiences with things happening on the screen. For instance, they each talk about how much of the Bible they have read. Cormac McCarthy shares some background on the story and his thought processes. They interview each other and ask each other questions, which I thought was neat. I'd like to see more of that in group commentaries which are usually just a free-for-all.  

The Making of 'The Sunset Limited' (HD, 04:38) is a brief but awesome look behind the scenes of the film. You get to see the set they built and how the walls retract to make room for the camera. You also get to see some footage of Cormac McCarthy collaborating with the actors on the dialogue.

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The Sunset Limited is a unique and gripping experience thanks to two commanding performances from Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. They're perfect conduits for the transfixing words of Cormac McCarthy. It is absolutely worth seeing, even if the modest production doesn't necessitate a Blu-ray presentation. Still, HBO releases the film on Blu-ray with a strong video transfer and a surprisingly dynamic audio track. There are two solid extras, but they left me wanting more.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.