We can tell the minute the “old friend” shows up, back in the remote corner of West Virginia where he grew up, that he’s trouble for Cole.
Terry (Cosmo Jarvis) talks too loud and too freely and knows way too much about Cole’s personal life. He’s a little too quick to “do shots,” make off-color cracks about having dated his buddy’s current lady friend and way too eager to “catch up” with Cole (Philip Ettinger).
Cole fakes a smile and gives him the wary side-eye. This “old friend” is indiscrete, making a lot of noise and drawing a lot of attention, which Cole avoids.
Cole is a stalwart, compassionate and valued nurse’s aide at the nursing home, helps the grandmother (Tess Harper) who raised him with his enfeebled retired preacher granddad (Frank Hoyt Taylor) and checks in on any number of old folks in their holler, bringing groceries when he does.
But Cole also traffics in pills — given them by seniors who don’t know what he’s doing with them, sold to him by ex-con Reese (Michael Trotter), glowered at but tolerated by local kingpin Everett (Marc Menchaca). He’s saving up for a better life, and sharing his stash with the tattooed tart Charlotte (Stacy Martin), the classmate Terry used to carry on with.
Reckless Terry’s just the sort of ill-wind that could blow Cole’s whole house of cards down.
“The Evening Hour” is a down-to-Earth and down-and-dirty opioid drama set in Ground Zero for this “other” American epidemic. Filmmaker Braden King filmed this adaptation of Cater Sickels’ novel in Harlan County, Kentucky and brings to life a vivid portrait of a community and a people in mourning.
Battered, lifted pick-ups and camo, aged trailers and houses whose upkeep “got away” from whichever generation is living in them now, it’s a community where the Eagle Tavern and the nursing home are the only going concerns for the feckless men and faithless women still young enough to long for escape.
Coal mining is all but dead, with its last remnants — destructive “mountain removal” mining tempting any of the downtrodden souls still stuck here, still hanging on to their land.
The despair is palpable even as Cole smiles at the wide swath of the community — classmates who’ve given up to seniors who try and pretend this off-the-books pill buying and popping is normal — that he, in a very real sense, holds together.
That’s got to be his rationalization, the way he lives. He’s got to see that “the Carson girl” he’s sleeping with is using him for pills and a way out.
“Terry Rose is the only person thinking big around here,” she says, goading him. She’s indiscrete, too, and “gossip still flies faster’n skeeters around here.”
And then grandpa dies, long-lost “Mom” (the great Lili Taylor) returns and Cole’s world threatens to crash in around his ears.
King, who directed the indie drama “Here” starring Ben Foster, cast “The Evening Hour” so well almost every character seems to have grown up in this hardscrabble world.
Ettinger (of “First Reformed” and TV’s “One Dollar”) makes Cole earnest, sensitive enough to make us wonder if he’s up to dealing with all these unsavory “types” he’s mixed up with. The “secretive” side gives him his edge.
Martin (“Vox Lux,” “All the Money in the World”) is convincingly louche and mercenary, using what she’s got to try and cash in a ticket out.
Kerry Bishé plays the sweet but sad barmaid, newly divorced and with a kid, who might be a better match for Cole.
Menchaca is biker-menace incarnate, Trotter brings layers to his hard-partying dealer and Jarvis, blurting and stammering and swaggering and imposing himself on this town and old friends, gets across cockiness born of desperation.
“The Evening Hour” may lean into stereotypes of Appalachia and the lawless dead end many find themselves driving into. But King, working from Elizabeth Palmore’s script, humanizes the character “types” and the “statistics” to make one of the more compelling dramas set in this world and its struggles.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, sex, smoking, profanity
Cast: Philip Ettinger, Lili Taylor, Marc Menchaca, Cosmo Jarvis, Stacy Martin, Kerry Bishé, Michael Trotter and Tess Harper
Credits: Directed by Braden King, script by Elizabeth Palmore, based on the novel by Carter Sickels. A Strand release.
Running time: 1:54