Round about midnight

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (M) Directed by Richard Linklater **** Reviewed by James Croot

From Vienna to Paris to the southern Peloponnese.

Yes, our novennial dip into the lives of "strangers on a train" Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) this time finds the pair coming to the end of a six-week vacation on the Greek Isle.

Turns out Jesse never did that make that plane (the cliffhanger that so enraged fans at the end of our last encounter - 2004's Before Sunset) - and has remained by Celine's side ever since. However, though the pair now having "cute" twin daughters, there has been plenty of fallout from Jesse's decision. His ex-wife hates him and his 13-year-old son is pretty much growing up without him.

The Greek getaway has been a rare chance to bond but now having sent Hank back to Chicago, Jesse worries that he might be missing his last chance to truly connect with him. Celine, however, has other worries on her mind.

While remaining true to the contemporary, realistic dialogue, weighty themes and meditative mood that marked out the original Before Sunrise as one of the most memorable small movies of the 1990s, writer-director Richard Linklater and his two co-writing stars have also ensured its concerns have grown up along with its original Generation X audience.

In some ways, it's the flip-side to Judd Apatow's far more comedic This is 40; these are the sometimes treacherous conversations, past-recriminations and future fears that are expressed when a usually child-fuelled couple finally get more than a moment alone. And like the previous two instalments, Before Midnight will provide plenty of opportunities for post-movie debates on subjects like culture versus character, whether humanity is evolving and whether you can truly know your partner.

By now, those new to the trilogy will have worked out that this is a film about talking rather than action. That said, it's also a tale of no little drama as Jesse and Celine's relationship and "ability to negotiate" faces a real test and as Linklater has proven in the previous films and his other "three-handed" drama, Tape, he knows how to elicit every last drop of tension out of an intense discussion.  

Delving into more dramatic depths than previously, Hawke and Delpy deliver two terrific performances as moods quickly change from playful to prickly and potentially poisonous thanks to an ill-advised comment or dredging up of latent hurts. Most impressively, rather than theatrical, their conversations feel organic and real, whether it's an easy, intimate back and forth or barely contained anger, a feat made all the more stunning because of Linklater's trademark use of long takes and tracking shots.

Of course the third character here, as in Sunrise and Sunset, is the setting. Midnight perfectly conveys the laid-back island lifestyle with the abundance of fresh food, settled weather and Plato-esque philosophers. Linklater uses a drive through the countryside, a relaxed lunch, a long walk to a hotel and a moonlit, harbourside outdoor cafe as the backdrop for his didactic opera.

Like Jesse's novel writing, this third effort is a little more difficult, more ambitious, more adult, but the emotional payoff is more satisfying. Roll on 2022.

An abridged version of the above review will appear in Saturday's Your Weekend section of The Press. Just like James Bond, Charlie Gates will return - to The Picture Palace next week.