Before Midnight-attachment0

Before Midnight

Movie Information

The Story: A look in on a day in the lives of the characters from Before Sunrise and Before Sunset nine years after we last saw them. The Lowdown: A beautiful — almost sublime — film about a relationship we've been following since 1995. Moving, authentic and a must-see.
Genre: Drama
Director: Richard Linklater (Bernie)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Prior, Charlotte Prior, Walter Lassally
Rated: R

As the third film in a series, Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight might seem to require that the viewer has seen Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). While I’m sure that enriches the experience, it’s not essential to understanding or following Before Midnight. (People keep calling it a trilogy, but there’s no guarantee that this is the last entry.) Even though we’re 18 years into the relationship between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), the film wisely gives us enough background to work as a stand-alone experience. And for me, it’s easily the best of the three, but I’ve never been as keen on the first two movies as I’m supposed to be. Why then do I find myself embracing this one? It may be partly the good will that Linklater has generated in me with Me and Orson Welles (2008) and Bernie (2011), or the fondness I’ve developed for Julie Delpy through 2 Days in Paris (2007) and 2 Days in New York (2012). But I think it’s mostly that I just like Jesse and Celine better at 41 than I did when they were 32 or 23 — which may say more about me than them, and which is almost certainly the result of the aging of both the filmmaker and his stars.

Before Midnight largely eschews the pseudo intellectual prattle of the earlier films — or at least relegates it to the first part of the movie where it’s mostly shop talk about Jesse’s writing career and projects. (The film still presents us with two people for whom the mere prospect of making a living never really intrudes.) Instead, we’re presented with a couple who’ve been together for nine years, know each other too well, and find things fraying at the edges. The story opens with Jesse putting his son (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Moonrise Kingdom) on a plane back to his mother in Chicago after spending the summer with Jesse and Celine in Greece. Some of this is expository — dropping in the information that even after nine years Jesse’s ex-wife is harboring a grudge the size of Gibraltar. But it’s so shrewdly done that it doesn’t matter. This leads effortlessly into a long conversation between Jesse and Celine, done in an incredibly lengthy take, on their way home from the airport. Here, the film sets up the seed of the argument on which the rest of the movie is built.

Don’t misunderstand — although the final section of the movie is devoted to a painfully realistic fight (in real time) of the kind only possible between people who’ve been together long enough to know just where to stick the knife and when — Before Midnight is not one long argument. There is more here, including a too-long scene at a dinner party and a perfectly beautiful sequence where the pair wander through the village alone. But the argument of whether to move to Chicago to be nearer the son simmers beneath the surface of every scene until the inevitable explosion. It’s all deftly handled and feels completely authentic — and sometimes uncomfortably funny in its reality, especially when we glimpse ourselves in the proceedings. From the moment Celine and Jesse set off on their own to the film’s hopeful, but beautifully ambiguous final shot, there’s really not a false note.

Perhaps the only downside — if it can be called that — is that the performances and dialogue are so good that it’s quite possible to overlook what an elegant and fluid film Linklater has made with his sinuous, lengthy tracking shots that put the viewer completely in the movie’s surroundings. This is wonderful and wonderfully creative filmmaking that has a lot more to do with why Before Midnight works than might be immediately apparent. It would, in fact, be worth seeing the film twice just to look at this aspect. But in any case, see this movie. If you embraced the first films, it’s an essential. If you didn’t, it just might drive you to want to reconsider and revisit them. I’m certainly thinking about it. Rated R for sexual content/nudity and language.

Playing at Carolina Cinemas and Fine Arts Theatre

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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19 thoughts on “Before Midnight

  1. Steven

    The best thing I’ve seen all year, and this will have to be a damn great year for it to be topped. Although, truth be told, I’m not entirely sure I can sit through this again any time soon. It really hit home.

  2. Ken Hanke

    The best thing I’ve seen all year

    Well, that far I can’t quite go, but it certainly is very good indeed.

  3. Big Al

    I cannot use the word “best”, as I must ENJOY a film to give it that moniker, and it certainly made me very uncomfortable for a spell, but it was definitely compelling, and as bad as that fight at the end had become, I was amazed that Linklater (through Hawke and Delpy) was able to CONVINCE me that Jesse’s last-ditch appeal would actually work and that their relationship might actually survive.

  4. Pat D.


    Love how the 3 movies build up, renew, destroy and start anew the true love clich

  5. Douglas Ewen

    Did not dig it … don’t know what all the fuss is about … 2 people fighting for almost 2 hours is not my idea of a good movie.

    • Douglas Ewen

      no and I see no reason to punish myself any further with this trilogy

  6. Steven

    [b]no and I see no reason to punish myself any further with this trilogy[/b]

    More likely than not, this is the reason why.

    • Steven

      Actually, maybe it’s just because you’re just a negative nancy. I could be wrong. I’m probably not.

  7. Big Al

    Ken, you are correct that this movie can be enjoyed without having seen the previous two, but in the case of some viewers like Mr. Ewen, who get hung up on the significant conflict and vitriol of the last 20 minutes of the film, it does help to see the depth of feelings towards one another in the prior meetings that formed this relationship, which underscores just how much disagreement is necessary to threaten to tear them apart, and how difficult is the task of the two to find common ground to save their relationship.

    I will admit that as the clock counted down to the end, I was convinced that nothing Jesse could say, or that Celine would accept, in the short time remaining could save the day without seeming trite or cliched, but wonder of wonders, I felt they (actors and director) pulled it off, like cutting the right wire on the time-bomb at 1 second.

    I doubt this will convince Mr. Ewen otherwise (he seems to have personalized his disagreement with you, not cool, Dude!), but for anyone else put there with similar concerns, I recommend (re-?) vieiwing the first two.

  8. Ken Hanke

    and you are Ken’s shadow?

    I didn’t even quite understand what the preceding comment meant, so if he was speaking for me, I’d like to know what I said.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Actually, maybe it’s just because you’re just a negative nancy. I could be wrong. I’m probably not.

    Please. Behave. Everyone.

    • Douglas

      Thanks Ken, not sure who Steve is and why he is bashing me … I just did not like the movie … big deal! Get over it!

  10. dpewen

    Thanks Ken,

    I do not know who Steve is and why he is bashing me … I simply did not like the movie … big deal … he needs to get over it.

  11. Steven

    I wasn’t bashing you. I really don’t care if you disliked the film. I was just stating you would see this picture in a different light – even if you dislike it – if you would have seen the first two films beforehand. Unlike Ken, I’d say seeing them is a necessity for seeing this one.

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