This review contains spoilers, I recommend not reading ahead if you haven’t seen it.
Trust me, I’m not being hyperbolic when I say the Before Sunrise series is the most self-contained trilogy ever created. Completely unique, the franchise has grown from a small indie darling into a beloved classic, the likes of which we’ve never seen. The franchise works so succinctly because it doesn’t feel like a film, instead feeling like you are spying on the private life of your best friends. By giving us characters we love in situations we understand, it makes the series one of the most cinematic ever created.
Before Midnight picks up 9 years after the last instalment. Jesse and Celine have spent the last 9 years as a couple, in that time they’ve set-up life in Paris and have even settled down with gorgeous twin girls. The beloved pair are on holiday in Greece with their own children and Jesse’s older son Hank. The film begins when Jesse drops Hank off at the airport, it was his yearly visit and now has to go home to his poisonous mother. This digs up a lot of feelings for Jesse, feelings he can’t help share with his partner, thus raising potentially bigger issues that have been bubbling under the surface.
If you love Before Sunrise and Before Sunset then you should be prepared, because there is a tiny chance you’ll struggle with Before Midnight. The film is darker then you could ever expect and goes places you might not be ready for. It is rare honest feature about how disconnected long-term partners can be. They may still love each other and essentially get along, but there are issues that go undiscussed which have potential to explode if not talked through properly or with respect. Before Midnight is this explosion.
By going down this path it could alienate fans of the whimsical nature of the first two, but really, you should have seen it coming. The first film is young love and the almost philosophical beliefs they carry. The second is a pair of 30 year olds that haven’t found love or themselves, they are struggling with the pace of life and feel like it is passing them by. Now as 40 year olds, they are grown adults with everything they could possibly want and more, but now they have to face the adult problems that derail relationships. It is more grounded then you can possibly imagine and takes the series to a whole new level of greatness.
Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater are all around the same age as the main characters and, by being co-writers, you get the feeling each film represents their beliefs or personal problems at the time of writing. It makes the film incredibly personal and it goes beyond just being another film, it does feel like a documentary. Because of this the series perhaps hasn’t gotten the awards respect it deserves. That should hopefully change with Before Midnight.
Delpy and Hawke are exhausting because of how powerful they are. The film is split into three lengthy segments, each one with a different flavour and a growing forbidding into the final segment. The actors are stretched more than any other film in the series, and potentially more than any film in their career. And they absolutely nail it, delivering phenomenal performances that verge on greatness. The final act is jaw-dropping, with each actor clearly drawing on personal experiences and going further than required to make every second believable. These two and their chemistry have been discussed for almost 20 years, after this you’ll assume they have been together the entire time.
The unsung hero of the Before series is Richard Linklater. Linklater is very much an underrated director and has never received the respect he deserves. A lot of the success of these films sits purely on his strong shoulders. His direction is minimal and subtle, it feels like we are spying because Linklater is also spying. He directs like an absent third-wheel, he is in the front-row of the audience making sure everybody behind him sees the beauty he sees. His direction would no doubt be worse without his cast, but the creativeness he injects in this film is unparalleled. By splitting the film into three distinct segments it brings out his creativity even more, resulting in his finest achievement to date.
In summary, Before Midnight deserves the perfect score I’m giving it. By this point it no longer feels like a film, but instead a forever growing and expanding friendship. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy deliver outstanding performances, which are some of the best you’ll see in 2013. Linklater’s direction continues to grow, an underrated filmmaker this is by far his best and a film he should be immensely proud of. The script is intelligent and grounded in reality, it is an honest experience, the like of which are rarely created.
Thank you Richard, Ethan and Julie, you’ve opened up your life to the world and crafted a trilogy of films that are as close to perfect as we’ll ever see.