Movie Review - Before Midnight

This is the third in a series of films, which began with Before Sunrise (1995) and continued with Before Sunset (2004). Directed and co-written by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused and Waking Life), the film stars co-writers Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke who return as Celine and Jesse respectively. Each film has essentially been just two people meeting in some European city and having a 90-minute conversation, often in real-time. That's all it's been. It's been just two people walking and talking the whole time, and nothing else, so if you don't like the talking, then you might not like the movie.

Celine is a French woman who works in government and who is into politics, particularly environmentalism. Jesse is an American writer who was previously married and had a son named Hank who is now prepubescent. Celine and Jesse now have two daughters who are about 8 or 9 years old. They live in Europe in Celine's home country of France. Jesse's son Hank and his mother live in the United States. At the opening of this film, Celine and Jesse with their daughters are vacationing in Greece and Hank has visited them but is now hopping on a plane to head back.

After the opening, what follows is a 13-minute sequence with only one edit. It's a long, car ride with the camera attached to the front of the car shooting a two-shot of Celine and Jesse talking and no break from that image. Topics vary from Celine's new job to Jesse's first love. It's all very well-written and well-performed. It's amazing to see both actors convey all of this dialogue, of which it is a lot, all continuously with no break for a whole eighth of the film's running time. It's the same prowess that stage actors have to possess, but still it's always impressive when the actors make it feel as real and genuine and as natural as Delpy and Hawke do.

This 13-minute sequence establishes what will be the core problems of Celine and Jesse's current situation. Celine wants more fulfillment in her career and is insecure about her abilities as a mother as well as how motherhood has affected her. Jesse is feeling guilty about living so far away from Hank and not being able to see him or be more of a presence in his boy's life. Other issues come into play, but these underlying ones are a ticking time bomb that will explode by the end.

While Before Sunrise and Before Sunset focused on Celine and Jesse and didn't involve too many other people, this one pulls in a half-dozen others. They along with Celine and Jesse sit at an outdoor table and talk over food about various other topics, ranging from youthful romance to how technology will affect humanity and relationships. It's a 16-minute sequence with many edits but still very much as natural and as genuine as the earlier 13-minute, practically unbroken sequence. It was a nice sequence, but it was more of a distraction and added 16 minutes that the film didn't need.

After the 16-minute sequence, the movie launches into the mode that it's most known. Celine and Jesse are alone, walking and talking. They get into a kind of groove, but after a while, and, after having been through this in two movies prior, there's nothing new and exciting here.

What kills the movie is the argument that Celine and Jesse have at the end. The fight feels so contrived. Celine gets angry and it seems like it's manufactured anger if only to give the film some excitement and to give Jesse something sweet to do to cap the whole thing. I suppose it's a typical ending, but the questions of Celine's job or Jesse's fatherhood to Hank are left unresolved. A better or more intriguing film in this vein would be Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content/nudity and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 48 mins.


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