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Before Midnight (★★★★)

Richard Linklater brings to light, the defining moments of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in his newest film…

Before-Midnight-posterTRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: The Tribeca Film Festival kicked off last Thursday with Pre-Festival screenings giving press and industry personnel the opportunity to see the heavy slate of films the New York festival has to offer.  Over the next few weeks, until the official festival kicks off on April 17th, the very best in foreign, documentary, and independent cinema will get some of their first viewings.

Richard Linklater directed and co-wrote the romantic classic Before Sunrise (1995) with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  We have to start by looking at how far this series has come since its inception nearly twenty years ago.  At the time, Hawke was fresh off Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites (1994) and was on his way to bigger projects.  Starring in the underwhelming yet entertaining White Fang (1991) and having a supporting turn in my favorite film of all-time Dead Poets Society (1989) with Robin Williams; Hawke was on his way from teen sensation to serious character actor.  Julie Delpy had a very different journey and was virtually unknown in America.  Having roles in the “Three Colors” series as Dominique, her only memorable American roles up to that point were in Roger Avary’s Killing Zoe (1993) as the young Zoe and as Constance in Disney’s adaptation of The Three Musketeers (1993) with Charlie Sheen and Keifer Sutherland.

Linklater’s first film in the “Before” series was made on a modest $2.5 million dollar budget and grossing just under $5.5 million dollars in the United States.  It was released on January 27, 1995 and its only recognition on the awards front was by the MTV Movie Awards in the Best Kiss category, losing to the hilarious face consumption lip lock by Lauren Holly and Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber (1994).  Linklater however, did win Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival.

As we witness the love of Jesse and Céline in Paris, the two embark on a marvelous journey that comes full circle in Linklater’s newest installment Before Midnight.  As the first film leaves off with the two agreeing to meet six months later in the same spot in Vienna, it’s one of the rare instances where a possible sequel is laid out before our eyes yet no one fully expected one to come to fruition.

Linklater along with original co-writer Kim Krizan and now with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in tow would bridge the nine years in Oscar-nominated Before Sunset (2005).  An independent hit, told in real-time, show Jesse and Céline meeting up and deciding if the feelings from a night in Paris were more than just one night leftovers.  Before Sunset gave Julie Delpy the largest opportunity to grow as an actress as she delivered her best performance of the film and her career.   As the 2004-2005 Oscar season started to build momentum, Delpy managed citations from the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and was runner-up in Los Angeles.  In the end, she still managed an Oscar nomination, though shared, with her writing partners in the Adapted Screenplay category.  Not even the quietly beloved film could topple the juggernaut that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor set up for themselves in the critical sensation, Sideways (2004).  Again, leaving the audience with an open interpretation, Sunset closes with a singing Céline telling Jesse he’s going to miss his plane.  Did we ever think they would go back into the writing studio to create another chapter in their lives?

Shooting in secret, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy went to Greece to “write the film” but had denied all reports about shooting.  Last September, during the Toronto Film Festival, it all came out; the third installment of the “Before” series, titled Before Midnight was shot and would be looking for a 2013 release.  It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to enthusiastic reviews with Sony Pictures Classics announcing shortly after, the film would be released May 24, 2013.

I am an admirer of the 1995 installment.  A bit cheesy for my liking but nothing overtly amazing to the cinematic method; I appreciate the foundation that was set up for the beauty that is Before Sunset.   Sunset however, is a tenderly shot and well-crafted look at life after ignored love.  Not to mention Julie Delpy is a revelation and incredibly poised as Céline, a performance that should have wiggled its way into the Best Actress lineup.

BeforeMidnight_ImageBefore Midnight is a different type of animal this time around.  I didn’t expect the team could top an already beautiful story but what they achieve in the newest installment is the most accurate and authentic portrayals of love since Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).  The film is an absolute marvel, showcasing the very best dialogue and capturing the sheer essence of acting brilliance from stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  Director Richard Linklater has also created the crowning work of his directorial career, showing incredible restraint and focus on two characters that still feel just as new and fresh as the day we met them.  The film opens with a near fifteen minute take that gets its hook into you and never lets up.  It’s a cinematic sensation.

Midnight takes place nine years after the events of Sunset.  Jesse and Céline are still together and have managed to have twin girls, Nina and Ella, and are living in Europe.  The film takes place at the tail end of a six-week vacation in Greece where Jesse has just dropped off his thirteen-year-old son Hank, from his previous marriage, at the airport for his return back to Chicago.  Realizing that he’s missing the formative years of Hank’s teenage life, Jesse and Céline explore the option of possibly making a move to America, leaving opportunities and a life in Europe behind.

This film is easily the best film of the franchise so far.  Packing an emotional and euphoric punch like third-installments like Toy Story 3 (2010) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), films that have a close-nit relation to their predecessors but saving all the masterful speeches and epiphanies for the viewer to indulge in their finales.   Obviously there’s no big fantasy battle or a near death experience in an incinerator for the meaning of life to be physically explained but in the power of words, and words alone, Before Midnight manages to become the poster child for screenwriting and brilliant storytelling for years to come. The film doesn’t take any cheap shots with every scene constructed from real emotion and feeling incredibly authentic and genuine.  There are long takes for the viewer to be present whether it’s in an airport conversation between Jesse and Hank or at a lunch with in the beautiful valleys of Greece or even in a hotel room where a man and a woman share intimacy like older lovers typically do.

Ethan Hawke is an actor that never quite caught onto the awards circuit for some odd reason.  Nominated for his performance alongside Denzel Washington in Training Day (2001), Hawke has shown tremendous range throughout his career including missed opportunities for recognition in Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007).  As Jesse this time around, Hawke uses every ounce of magnetism, charisma, and acting ability to bring himself to the levels of legendary actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Marlon Brando.  He becomes a man all too familiar to the male viewer and ignites the film into a spectacular frenzy of passion.  Hawke isn’t afraid to show the inner turmoil of Jesse as the growing cancer of guilt has come to the surface.  He works moment after moment in expressing the bewildering beauty of love at the expense of one’s own values and sacrifice.  He’s almost the distant, and utterly toned down, cousin of Freddie Quell from Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012), a man so complex but inserted with terrific character beats and an actor willing to commit entirely to the craft to portray him flawlessly.  Hawke surpasses not only his past features but the very being of himself as an actor.  It’s his finest turn yet.

Julie Delpy is as imaginative and magnetic as ever.  She’s a wonderful presence, often very skillful example of acting on the finest level.  She executes the pure feelings of uncertainty in conjuncture with the script which is a clear and marvelous character study on love.  She’s wildly immersed into Céline, accomplishing not only a somewhat free-spirited damaged woman but a sex appeal that triggers any person’s romantic desires.  She’s an effortless existence in the film, which makes Céline not only explicitly real, but tenderly and mysteriously loving for the viewer.  It’s a performance that defines her abilities as an actress and one that will be remembered fifty years from now as we all think back on the amazement of Julie Delpy.

The film is breathtakingly accurate and precise in capturing the love and relationship of couples, it will and should be studied by film schools and writers for years to come.  Linklater bares his soul, frame after frame, showing confidence of his own idiosyncratic vision of this story and being as accessible to even the youngest of people.  This is Linklater’s most personal tribute to the scope of cinema and will be his defining moment on the silver screen.  The film is a must-see and is the first masterpiece that 2013 has to offer.  Before Midnight is an instant Oscar-contender and a triumph in filmmaking.  It’s the go-to film of the Tribeca Film Festival and the best picture of the year so far.

The film opens May 24, 2013 and is being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

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What do you think?

72 points
Film Lover

Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of AwardsCircuit.com. Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.

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