We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna.
Before 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 screen writing 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.