Before Midnight Review
by Daniel Rester
Before Midnight is one of the best films of 2013, but it’s part of something bigger that’s been eighteen years in the making. It all began in 1995 with Before Sunrise. That film came from co-writer/director Richard Linklater and co-writer Kim Krizan, and starred Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Linklater and the stars reteamed in 2004 for Before Sunset, with the three sharing credit for the screenplay. Now we arrive at Midnight here in 2013, with the three again getting credit for the script. The entire process has allowed for one of the most satisfying trilogies put to film in the past few decades.
Sunrise saw the beginning of the relationship between American man Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Parisian woman Celine (Julie Delpy). The two young people met up on a train and decided to get off together in Vienna. After spending an entire day together and unexpectedly falling in love, they separated at a train station as she went on to Paris. Sunset joined us with the characters nine years later, who had not seen each other in that long span of time. The film had Jesse as a successful author who had written about the events in Sunrise, sparking Celine to seek him out while on one of his book tours. They walked around Paris and eventually rekindled their relationship, despite Jesse being a married man and a father to a son.
Midnight now explores Jesse and Celine’s relationship again, with nine years again having passed. The two are married and have two adorable little girls (played by Jennifer Prior and Charlotte Prior). After dropping Jesse’s son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) off at the airport, the family of four head to a vacation spot in Greece. They spend some time with a few writers and couples at a dinner party before Jesse and Celine depart to spend some time alone. They walk some city streets before eventually ending up at a hotel suite, which was provided as a gift of romance from their friends.
Midnight, like Sunrise and Sunset before it, is completely built on a central relationship and lots and lots of dialogue between the two involved; all of the films revolve around lengthy conversations dealing with various matters. The dialogue and themes of the first film really dealt with young passion, unexpected chances, the awkwardness of a new relationship, etc. That film was the lightest of the three and delivered the initial spark of the romance. The second film dealt more with opportunities both lost and gained, the impact that one small part of time can have on people, the changes and aggravation that can come with maturing after a fling, etc. Sunset had more of a poignancy dwelling within it as the two people had to determine whether they were actually meant to reconnect. Midnight now deals with the couple wrestling with ideas of fatherhood, missed opportunities in favor of romance, death, weakening attraction, etc. as they reach their 40s.
The success of Midnight really comes from Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy’s continued love for these characters and their efforts in consistently making them interesting and human. The screenplay contains situations and exchanges of dialogue that feel unbelievably real, with the moments and words flowing organically from the opening till the credits. The filmmakers have really nailed the ideas that such a couple would talk about and dwell on given their ages – something that Sunrise and Sunset did perfectly as well. Scripts like these really give me hope for the romance genre, as this screenplay is truly Oscar-worthy – and also contains more (stinging and sharp) comedic moments than the other two.
Making the script seem invisible is the presence of Hawke and Delpy, who are Jesse and Celine in these films now. The two have really given the finest performances of their careers in the Before films. Midnight finds each of them displaying dramatics and touching moments in a riveting way. These are not characters exploring the mystery of young love anymore, but rather people who are fighting to stay in love. Hawke has a certain agony in the eyes of Jesse that really stirs emotions, but he also finds warmth and comedic timing for the character. Delpy, on the other hand, remains stunning with both her looks and her blasts of frustration and smiles. The chemistry between these two is unforgettable.
Linklater is a master at patiently letting scenes unfold and allowing the characters to do the magic. There is no camera or editing trickery in Linklater’s approach, but rather a softness and intelligence that provides the right touch. Only a few rare moments (such as the dinner scene, which applies too much focus to some side characters) feel a tad off, but they can be brushed aside in favor of the total outcome. For the most part, Linklater nails each scene with both timing and display – with everything unfolding on beautiful Greek locations. He especially lets the fireworks go off when the hotel scene is reached, a part of the film that is very memorable.
What may seem as smug or pretentious — and very talky — at times (for some), the Before trilogy easily makes up for such moments with its strengths, such as its continuity, beauty, and ambition. The writing, acting, direction, and locations (and the music in Midnight) are all noteworthy in these films. They are truly remarkable in how personal and believable they are.
I believe that each of the Before films are near-perfect in their own ways. And Midnight adds just the right brush stroke at the end in leaving things open for interpretation and a possible fourth entry. While I can’t say that any of the individual Before films are full-on masterworks by themselves, I can state that the trilogy makes for a masterpiece. Do not miss these films.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A).