Before Midnight


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.


Paul Newman and Susan Sarandon in Twilight

In the opening scenes of Twilight, 21-year-old Reese Witherspoon appears topless. It may seem gratuitous, but I like to think it’s really a subtle way of taunting the 72-year-old Paul Newman, a private investigator who confronts the nude Witherspoon with the aim of whisking her back to her parents. If Witherspoon’s nubile body is a reminder of Newman’s status as a geezer, what follows is an insult to his virility — the girl gets hold of his gun and shoots him in the thigh. And maybe she hits something more important than his thigh. For the rest of the movie, other characters eye him with sympathy. “We heard about what happened in Mexico,” he’s told when he asks why he’s being treated with kid gloves.

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