Monday, 24 June 2013

Film Review: Before Midnight (2013)

Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick

With Before Midnight, director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have accomplished the seemingly impossible; they have made a perfect movie trilogy. Not ‘quite good’, not ‘good but a weak third film’ and certainly not manufactured to please legions of internet fans.

Perfection. 5 star perfection.

When you think of trilogies you think of either a series of published works which lend themselves to be turned into a film, or a surprise hit which could be turned into a financial cash grab for the studio. The Before series is neither; the first film was a simple story based on a reaction to an experience Linklater had in Philadelphia and only made $5.5 million at the US box office. Moreover when sequels get made many years after the original the results are usually disappointing at best; who still talks about Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, or Another 48 HRS in the same vein as the originals? Nobody.

So why does this series, made over 18 years, work? It works because it exists not to please or pander to audience expectations, but because it has a life in-between the films and doesn’t feel for one moment as if it’s being revived or engineered for a purpose. The characters Jessie (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) are out there now as you read this review, living their lives and doing whatever it is they are doing. They exist beyond the films which we have seen them and to create such a powerful connection to these characters is a stroke of genius which should forever be treasured by film lovers.

Before Midnight isn’t a film one can easily review like the other films we see in cinemas because unlike other films which may be described as ‘perfection’, this isn’t about powerful language of cinema or masterful cinematography or mind-blowing set/costume/sound design. Linklater’s film, and trilogy as a whole, doesn’t look aesthetically stunning and the beautiful surroundings (Vienna, Paris, The Peloponnese) are never photographed to heighten or add gravitas the production value over character yet it is as captivating as any other film (or film series) as you could ever hope to see.

What differentiates Before Midnight from the previous films is that it is, at times, an uncomfortable watch. After the film finished, one may feel it’s not quite on the level as the previous films because it doesn’t leave you feeling the hope for these characters to finally be together, but after contemplation this third film is exactly the tone and temperament which it needed to be and just because the characters are not necessarily as ‘likeable’ 18 years later doesn’t mean the quality of the film suffers for it. Moreover, the weight of all which we, the audience, haven’t seen since Before Sunset is carried through to this film, and like in Before Sunset the final half of this film is fraught with revelations and emotions unspoken in nine years.

To say the acting, writing, and directing in this film is a tour de force is an understatement. This isn’t a half-baked copy of the previous films, and even though some scenes are jarring compared to what we’ve seen before, they are necessary to establish the relationship as it is today, not as it was 18 years ago. For the first time, Jessie and Celine are split up into different scenes and no longer always share the screen; they are joined by three other couple of varying ages in one scene which shows the stages of relationships of where they have been, where they are now, and what they have to look forward to; they have children of their own now who are present throughout the opening scenes. This is a different scenario than we are used to seeing and full praise to the film makers for the decision to move the film on rather than give us what we have seen before.

There is a scene at the start of the film where the couple are driving with their children asleep in the back seats. Shot with a single camera on the dashboard of the car, the scene is mesmerising in what it is able to say and show because it is, essentially pure exposition but never comes across as anything other than natural, flowing dialogue. With the children in the car, ever-present in the lives of the couple, so much cannot be said or argued or disputed and so much is brushed aside for another day. As the film progresses, Jessie and Celine are in a hotel room and, now finally alone, all that couldn’t be said or inferred in front of their children or friends can be brought out into the open. Not just the conversation in the car but years’ worth of anxieties. Some truly nasty things are said, just like in real life, and blame is attached to one another for how their lives have tuned out and the sacrifices they have made to be with each other. It is electrifying cinema.

Fans of Linklater’s Steadicam tracking shots will be delighted with the return of Jessie and Celine’s strolls as they walk and talk with the camera just following along, allowing the action to unfold at a natural, organic, and unhurried pace. Linklater’s directoral style in the film and series as a whole is the definition of economy of shot because no cut or change to the scene is shown unless absolutely necessary; he wants the dialogue and character to take centre stage, not his camera.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: As a film on its own, Before Midnight is superb and is working on a level beyond almost anything else seen in 2013. As the third film in a trilogy it is becomes something else entirely and makes the previous films even better because of what unfolds here; it is part of a film series which transcends the limitations of most films. It lives, breathes, loves, hates, cries and will continue to do so long after the final credits roll.

We should all be thankful to Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy for this gift they have given us.

1 comment:

  1. Before Midnight bears too few similarities to its thoroughly superior predecessors.