Ethan Hawke needs to eat a sandwich. Richard Linklater needs to let his existential dilemmas rest for a while. I guess he did that in School of Rock, whatever. Julie Delpy needs to get herself cast into more movies I see. I guess I could work on seeing more of her films.
Before Sunset, real-time sequel to the well regarded Before Sunrise, is a conversation movie; it’s a getting to know you again movie that wastes no time in the intellectual void of non-dialogue. It is, literally, all dialogue. Not all of it is good, a lot of it is inexplicable. The movie succeeds, by and by, despite its clunkiness, verbosity and the kind of metaphysical subject matter that has no place in a getting reacquainted kind of conversation.
I think it succeeds, primarily, because Hawke and Delpy, essentially the only two people in the movie, have bought into the concept, they co-wrote the script, they played in the movie shot nine years ago that was about the encounter that happened (in movie time) nine years ago. They have a familiarity with the characters that allows Linklater to pull off the gorgeous tracking shots. There’s no doubt that Linklater has bought into the concept. There’s nothing flashy or pretentious about the direction of this movie. There are essentially three shots: The long tracking shot, the closeup on Delpy, and the closeup on Hawke. That’s it really. This is a movie about two people Linklater wants nothing, especially tricky directing, to get in the way of their rediscovery.
Hence, Before Sunset, lives and dies by its dialogue. There’s considerably more living than dying. Linklater and company are most successful when they put away the angst and liberal proselytizing and let the characters explore their lives with and without each other. In those moments, which get better and more numerous as the film comes to a close, Hawke and Delpy look more comfortable and earnest about the words they’re saying. Before that you have a lot of insecurity and uncertainty, which is a natural outgrowth of not having seen someone in nine years, but more often than feeling like nervous expectation, it comes off hackneyed.
Rather than disbelief that they’re finally seeing each other again, it seems like disbelief that they’re talking about freedom fries, globalization and nihilism.
Linklater has harvested the ether of modernism better and more pointedly in The Waking Life, which is a more ambitious film, but ultimately one that doesn’t hit the emotional stride Before Sunset does, precisely because of the primacy of philosophic pursuit.
Then, just when Before Sunset finds itself, it’s over, which is just how it should be.
occurring in realtime and coming in at 80 minutes, it’s a terse but vivid exploration of human desire, expectation, longing, and reclamation. Hawke has a plane to catch, and only has about an hour with the woman that has ruled his imagination for nine years. Like its characters, Before Sunset connects powerfully, but only once it gets serious about rediscovering itself.