A colleague of mine once floated a memorable thought experiment: if you could visit the picturesque fictional towns portrayed in 1940s Hollywood dramas in the present day, they might be ravaged by the opioid epidemic. The idea traces a thread of continuity in American life, which I believe is partly what “The Evening Hour” is trying to do.
Set in a small Appalachian town, Braden King’s luminous second feature centers on a wholesome nursing aide, Cole (Philip Ettinger), who moonlights as a drug dealer. His daily rounds of checking on seniors — including his grandmother — also entail picking up and dropping off pills. He’s a peacemaker with a casual girlfriend (Stacy Martin), a clingy old friend (Cosmo Jarvis), another pal (Michael Trotter), who’s also a client, and an absent mother (Lili Taylor), who suddenly shows up when his grandfather dies.
King works to portray a tight mesh of relationships around Cole, directing Elizabeth Palmore’s valiant adaptation of the sensitively rendered Carter Sickels novel. But lacking a strong central performance from Ettinger — who gets stuck on a half-pained, half-exasperated setting — much of the movie feels like a series of comings and goings, entrances and exits. And from the moment that a ruthless dealer in town gives Cole a hard look, there’s no question where his side hustle will lead.
In flashbacks, Cole longs for time spent with his grandfather and at religious gatherings. The movie opens and closes with appreciative pans of the verdant hills that suggest the heartland will live on. But what comes in the middle doesn’t quite hold together.
The Evening Hour
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes. In theaters.