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Before Midnight

2013 | 109 min | R | 1.85:1

Before Midnight


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Theatrical release date

 24 May, 2013
 21 June, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Before Midnight


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Before Midnight Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 6, 2013

“Before Midnight” represents the next stage of development for the Richard Linklater-directed series, which wasn’t truly intended to be a string of movies in the first place. With 1995’s “Before Sunrise” and 2004’s “Before Sunset,” Linklater, along with star Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, crafted loquacious inspections of the human heart, studying the development of a tentative relationship as it grew from flirtation to promises, from loss to love. Now the topic is marriage and all its pitfalls and challenges, returning to the once springy lovers nearly two decades after they first met on a European train. True to form, Linklater doesn’t rock the boat with this second sequel, embarking on a familiar odyssey of conversation, personal inventory, and brutal honesty.

Nine years after Jesse (Ethan Hawke) decided to skip a crucial flight that would reunite him with his family, the successful author is now married to Celine (Julie Delpy) and a father to a set of twin girls. Facing bitter struggles with his ex-wife, Jesse is conflicted about the joint custody arrangement with son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), who’s in Chicago while the writer makes his home in Paris. On a summer trip to Greece, Jesse and Celine attempt to rekindle their careworn relationship, meeting up with friends on an exquisite island getaway. Unfortunately, the stress of unsettled relationships and professional opportunities have placed strain on Jesse and Celine’s romantic union, finding the pair confronted with a dark reality of separation as their idyllic retreat turns into a nasty bout of couples therapy, purging their secrets and fears to each other in a vitriolic manner previously unthinkable.

The “Before” trilogy touches on the excitement of love, the trial of commitment, and fear of the future, but truly these movies are primarily an excuse for the production to enjoy the art of conversation. Scripted by the Hawke, Delpy, and Linklater, the pictures embrace a common breathlessness, a thirst for articulation that’s a rare thing in cinema. It’s a searching sense of dialogue that connects on philosophical, existential, and emotional levels, with most, if not all of the characters offered a chance to pour their souls onto to celluloid (or I suppose a hard drive these days), discussing whatever rockets into their brain. “Before Midnight” continues the verbal assault, though for this installment, the new car smell of attraction has worn off for Celine and Jesse, catching up with the lovers as they face the commitment blues, each struggling with their place in marriage and parenthood as a Greek excursion turns into a minefield of pent-up hostility that slowly leaks into this particular day of domestic rejuvenation.

As previously established, “Before Midnight” follows the interplay between the couple, who discuss their parenting skills, an important job opportunity handed to Celine, Jesse’s guilt over his distance from Hank, and their frayed connection as a couple, which has been exploited by the writer to fuel two best-sellers, much to his wife’s disgust. The couple talk and talk, they debate and disclose, and their friends monologue about topics that largely focus on love and sex. It’s a tennis match of dialogue exchanges, captured in long takes to preserve significance, requiring patience with the feature as it attacks its themes in a most protracted manner. It’s not a particularly naturalistic approach either, finding Hawke and Delpy overacting to make their presence felt, using Linklater’s intimacy as stage time, wildly gesturing and reacting as though the movie was shot through a pair of dirty glasses. Perhaps a nitpick, sure, but the organic chemistry between the pair takes longer to warm up in “Before Midnight,” showing fragments of stiffness the previous pictures hid with greater ease. It’s not that Delpy and Hawke don’t have the chemistry, they’re terrific together, but their overemphatic ways feel false in a film that’s endeavoring for realism.

The conflict arranged for “Before Midnight” is the strongest of the three, watching Jesse fidget uncomfortably as his thoughts return to Hank, mulling a move back to Chicago to be close to a boy that needs his father. He abandoned his family years ago to make a new one with Celine, and the weight of that decision is finally hitting him. This topic drives Celine mad, struggling with her own dwindling sense of identity and opinion as the stasis of motherhood steals her life, growing resentful of Jesse as he enjoys a life of book tours, greeting adoring, dim-witted female fans. While Linklater keeps the first two acts relatively peaceful with deceptively mild conversation and speechifying, the script grows fangs in the final act, watching the matured, creased pair turn on each other in a hotel room, cleansing themselves of irritations and accusations until it reaches a point of no return. Gone is the dewy couple who toured Vienna in 1994 and rekindled their attraction in 2003, replaced here with two frustrated souls unsure if their time together was the right choice. Considering how much Celine and Jesse communicate as part of their daily ritual, the accusations and proclamations made here are genuinely shocking, punching “Before Midnight” out of its slumber.

Ending on a slightly ambiguous note, allowing for another chapter in the Celine and Jesse story to possibly appear in cinemas around 2022, “Before Midnight” is a satisfying addition to this ongoing saga of commitment and all its turbulent, deceptively simple demands. More importantly, it’s an outstanding show of long term vision for Linklater and his actors, who bravely attack the pains of maturation though the authenticity of time, providing a unique perspective on the passage of years and how it changes human dynamics and tests the elasticity of love. Of course, these topics could be successfully dissected with half of the dialogue offered here, but projects this special and ambitious do not arrive every day.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Director: Richard Linklater

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