Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater & Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Running Length: 109 minutes
Synopsis: In Before Midnight, we meet Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) 9 years on. Almost 2 decades have passed since that first meeting on a train bound for Vienna, and we now find them in their early 40’s in Greece. Before the clock strikes midnight, we will again become part of their story.
Review: It’s rare for a movie these days to be entirely about dialogue, but Richard Linklater’s sequel to the well-loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset movies is exactly that. Yes, this is about as much of a “talkie” as one can get, but when the dialogue is of such high quality it’s impossible to fault. Before Midnight bucks the increasingly popular trend of dumbing down movies for the largest possible mass audience, and yet remains such a pleasure to watch that audiences who are mentally prepared for the movie would find themselves richly rewarded.
A caveat: although Before Midnight can be viewed as a standalone movie, much of the context would be lost if one has not watched Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, so much so that it should almost be a prerequisite. Having gotten that out of the way, for viewers who are familiar with Jesse and Celine, this movie answers the “what if?” definitively – the two have become an item, and in the time the audience have spent apart from them, they have also become parents to a pair of twins. While it was all magical romance in the previous instalments, Before Midnight takes the duo in a slightly different direction. Interactions between the couple are now tinged with more real world weariness and bitterness, although it’s still clear that love remains between the two.
The truly impressive feat about Before Midnight is how real it all feels. There are moments in Before Midnight where it almost doesn’t feel like a scripted movie at all, and there’s a distinct sense of deja vu because all of it feels so familiar and so true to real life. The centrepiece in the latter part of the film is an argument between Jesse and Celine, and I dare say anyone who’s attached or married would find that scene eerily close to at least one occasion that they would have experienced themselves. The first half of the film also features a dinner table conversation amongst friends that would possibly rank as the most memorable and impressive dramatic set piece this year. It may all seem prosaic at first, but the way that scene builds and builds (and its eventual conclusion) is simply remarkable writing and filmmaking.
Linklater never allows anything to overtake the interaction between the couple, with camerawork (and even the soundtrack) kept to a very simplistic level. Together with the fact that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are both intimately acquainted with their respective characters (they are also credited as co-writers in this instalment, as they were in Before Sunset), it is little wonder that the level of verisimilitude is so high. It’s tempting to suggest that these characters are at least in part a reflection of the actors’ true selves, because it almost doesn’t feel like they are inhabiting a character at times.
While the previous films have been left relatively open-ended, the denouement of Before Midnight feels more definite. There seems to be little wiggle room and does seem to close off the possibility of another sequel, but when the level of enjoyment one can obtain from the trifecta, it would be a pleasure either way. It’s hard to imagine any other movie being able to reach such dramatic perfection this year.
Rating: * * * * (out of four stars)