Director Richard Linklater approached this decade-spanning project with a novelist’s ambition and patient determination. Reuniting with the same, small group of actors on an annual basis, he made a real coming-of-age story, focusing on six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his estranged parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) and following them all until the boy enters his freshman year of college. The resulting film is necessarily episodic in nature but still unique in its rhythms: marriages and remarriages follow in quick succession; characters drop in and out of the story without warning; jump cuts swallow up a year’s worth of off-screen events in an instant. The narrative ebbs and flows easily, ratcheting up the drama to deal with an abusive, alcoholic stepfather and then spinning down again to depict father-and-son bull sessions and low-key teenage mischief. Continue reading
Your prize for making it through the first half of this film, with its dreary prandial conversation about life, letters, and the transient nature of everything, is the second half of this film, with its lengthy emotional negotiation held on the precipice of oblivion. The performances are so finely delivered that they appear nearly effortless, as though these two are merely playing themselves on screen, so many years on. The dialogue is so illuminating, even lacerating in its fine detail, that it can make you wince. This long, climactic capper to Linklater’s trilogy (what’s he going to call the fourth film? Up All Night?) obviously represents an attempt on the part of the director and his actorly co-scripters to assay the earthbound resentment and pettiness that sneak eventually into fairy-tale relationships, but the effort works on such a primal level that It’s hard not to take sides. Me, I was rooting for poor Céline to haul off and smack that self-satisfied grin off Jesse’s wisecracking face. You may well feel differently. Finally, it doesn’t matter — when it comes to playing favorites, the film is on Team Céline and Team Jesse. But it knows both its characters well enough that it’s clearly fretting over what happens next.
In the near-future science fiction world of A Scanner Darkly, narc agents are polymorphous detectives, wearing “scramble suits” that cycle, both visually and aurally, through scores of identity fragments to avoid detection by face-recognition systems. It’s a striking idea in literature, and in film even more so — especially in this film, which places a layer of abstraction between its cinematography and its audience, retracing the filmed images of easily recognizable actors as moody, moving line drawings. When the technique was used for the movie-length freshman-dorm-room conversation that was Waking Life, it felt precious and gimmicky. Applied to a more downbeat brand of existentialism, like this free-flowing, almost meditative version of Philip K. Dick’s classic novel about the tactics of drug police and the personal costs of addiction, it’s a kind of genius.