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EW Movie Review: "Before Midnight"

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Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke reprise their roles as Celine and Jesse in "Before Midnight," the third installment of their trilogy about longtime lovers. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following report for NY1.

The first time we saw Jesse and Celine, the ardent duo played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, in Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise", the two had just met and were spending a long night wandering around Vienna, exactly the sort of random encounter that can feel like starry-eyed destiny when you’re in your mid-twenties. In 2004, Linklater reunited the two characters in "Before Sunset", an equally charming and, in some ways, even more artful sequel.

If, like me, you loved first two movies, Jesse and Celine will now seem like old friends, and it's likely that you'll go into "Before Midnight", the third chapter in their saga, expecting another poetically touching conversational love song. Yet "Before Midnight" confounds expectations in powerful and even haunting ways. It's not just darker than the previous two films. It's bigger, deeper and more searching. It follows the two characters through a tale of embattled love that extends far beyond them.

Early on, we see Jesse and Celine talking in an unbroken mounted-on-the-hood-of-the-car shot that lasts for close to 15 minutes. What we learn is that the two are now an unmarried couple living in Paris with their twin daughters, and that they still have their back-and-forth rapport, only it’s grown testy in its intimacy. Their every issue and disagreement has become an entangled power struggle.

Before Midnight is happy, sad, bitter, tragic, and redemptive, but it is never predictable. There are moments when it evokes the wistful bohemian rapture of the first two movies, but it's the film’s shattering second half that truly defines it, as the two characters wind up in a hotel room for what's supposed to be a romantic getaway, and all the pent-up resentments of their union start to bubble to the surface.

Hawke and Delpy are both brilliant. They make every moment feel like it’s really happening. We've seen this sort of thing before, of course, in films like "Scenes From a Marriage", but Linklater stages this escalating relationship war with a casual, flowing virtuosity, and he taps the unique tensions between men and women that define our era.

This deeply bittersweet movie suggests that our long-term relationships now sustain themselves over time by dying in order to be reborn. "Before Midnight" is an enchanting entertainment that's also the most honest, and moving, film about love in years.

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