The opioid crisis afflicting rural communities across the US has been a major topic within current affairs discourse for several years now, spanning (at least) three administrations, so it is surprising that there have been relatively few films made about it. This new drama from music video director Braden King reduces this lack of representation in impressive fashion. It is set in a depressed/depressing, bleakly nondescript small town in West Virginia and centers on Cole (Philip Ettinger), a care home worker who begins stealing prescription drugs from his workplace and selling them to the town’s opioid-hungry residents. He forms an uneasy, dangerous alliance in this venture with Terry (the always-excellent Cosmo Jarvis), an old schoolfriend who re-enters his life after a period of several years’ absence, and the machinations of this partnership have dangerous, potentially violent ramifications for Cole and everyone he holds dear, not least his drug-addicted girlfriend, Charlotte (Stacy Martin).

The film convincingly depicts a seedy milieu where opportunities are few and temptations are legion. Cinematographer Declan Quinn does a great job of capturing the beauty of the countryside that surrounds the town, which contrasts sharply with the squalid living conditions (painstakingly rendered by production designer Debbie DeVilla) of those living inside of it. This is a land where people live in decrepit clapboard houses and trailers, do menial jobs and frequent drab bars and diners. Cole and his friends and associates are mostly in their late twenties and early thirties, but even at their young ages, they seem washed-up and almost beyond hope. Some of them dream of escaping, but their plans for doing so are mostly unviable. These people have few legitimate employment prospects, so they often have to resort to less legitimate work in order to get by. Indeed, one of the film’s few characters to have cultivated a moderately contented and stable life for themselves is Ruby (Lili Taylor), a middle-aged ex-addict working in a diner.

Ettinger, Jarvis, Martin, Taylor et al. all do some great acting work here, as does Marc Menchaca as Everett, a violent and unpredictable drug dealer with whom Cole and Terry unwisely decide to do business. Ettinger builds on his impressive work as the eco-terrorist protagonist of Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, while Jarvis delivers his third great performance in 18 months following his work in Nocturnal and the outstanding Calm with Horses. The main cast all turn in performances that are strong, stern and world-weary, but in a manner that is subtle and understated. This is no mean feat, as this sort of material can all too often invite histrionics. Praise should also go to Michael Krassner, Tim Rutili and the Boxhead Ensemble for their dark, forebodingly effective score, dominated as it is by moody cellos and violins.

The Evening Hour is a strong piece of work. The story goes to some dark places and the authentically thick West Virginian accents, all plausibly rendered, can make it difficult to fully understand what is happening and what is being said at some points, but the performances are uniformly great and on a technical level, the film is visually and aurally astounding. It is surprising that it was made by a director who comes from a music video background, as its austere visuals and slow-burning pace are virtually the polar opposite of the hallmarks we have come to expect from filmmakers who have emerged from that medium. The film’s characters are not given all that many potential avenues for escape, but that is a good thing, because that is what life is like for people who have to live in these sorts of circumstances in real life. The Evening Hour may very well deal with bleak subject matter, but it is ultimately an emotionally enriching and rewarding viewing experience.

Summary
This rural drama’s treatment of the opioid crisis is grimly candid, but an array of impressive talent in front of and behind the camera makes it engrossing viewing.
80 %
Bleak but Compelling
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