JACKI LYDEN, HOST: Eighteen years ago, actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy teamed up with director Richard Linklater to make what's probably the talkiest movie romance ever. It was called "Before Sunrise," and it was just the two actors having a daylong conversation. Nine years later, the same team got together again to make "Before Sunset," also a one-day long conversation. Now, they've made a third film. This one's called "Before Midnight," and critic Bob Mondello says they still got plenty to say.
BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Celine and Jesse are sporting a few physical wrinkles as they work through some relationship wrinkles this time around - yes, relationship. They've got kids now, which means they're way past the meet-cute stage of the first two pictures, though they do occasionally relive it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEFORE MIDNIGHT")
JULIE DELPY: (as Celine) If we're meeting for the first time today on a train, would you find me attractive?
ETHAN HAWKE: (as Jesse) Of course.
DELPY: (as Celine) No, but really right now, as I am, would you start talking to me? Would you ask me to get off the train with you?
HAWKE: (as Jesse) Well, I mean, you're asking a theoretical question. I mean, what would my life situation be? I mean, technically, wouldn't I be cheating on you?
DELPY: (as Celine) OK. Why can't you just say yes?
HAWKE: (as Jesse) No, no. I did. I said of course.
DELPY: (as Celine) No, no, no. I wanted you to say something romantic, and you blew it, OK?
HAWKE: (as Jesse) OK, OK.
MONDELLO: The heady buzz of romance may have given way to the less-urgent throb of commitment, but Celine and Jesse have never stopped trying to puzzle out their relationship. Actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have again workshopped the dialogue to make their scripted conversation sound loose and improvised. And this time, director Richard Linklater has them wandering through an eye-popping family vacation in Greece, babbling away in long, uninterrupted takes for the camera.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEFORE MIDNIGHT")
HAWKE: (as Jesse) If I could change one thing about you...
DELPY: (as Celine) Uh-huh.
HAWKE: (as Jesse) ...it would be for you to stop trying to change me.
DELPY: (as Celine) You're a very skilled manipulator.
HAWKE: (as Jesse) Mm-hmm. Well, I am onto you. I know how you work.
DELPY: (as Celine) You think?
HAWKE: (as Jesse) Yeah. I know everything about you. Here we go. Let's go through here.
DELPY: (as Celine) I don't think you do, actually.
HAWKE: (as Jesse) No? Yeah? Well, I know you better than I know anybody else on the planet. But maybe that's not saying much.
DELPY: (as Celine) You mean right now?
HAWKE: (as Jesse) What?
DELPY: (as Celine) This is great...
HAWKE: (as Jesse) Right.
DELPY: (as Celine) ...you know, I feel close to you.
HAWKE: (as Jesse) Yeah. Yeah.
DELPY: (as Celine) But sometimes I don't know. I feel like you're breathing helium and I'm breathing oxygen.
HAWKE: (as Jesse) What makes you say that?
DELPY: (as Celine) See?
HAWKE: (as Jesse) What? Come on. I'm just being myself.
DELPY: (as Celine) I'm trying to truly connect and you make a joke.
MONDELLO: It's not surprising that their sparring would have a less wistful edge after years together, but even they don't expect the sharpness that creeps in when they check into a hotel for some away-from-the-kids, shake-out-the-cobwebs sex. The sun sinks below the horizon and somehow takes civility with it. And as the director exchanges Greek vistas for the tiny confines of a hotel suite, in the artificial light, you can see the creases that time has etched into the actors' faces, see how earned the pain seems in their eyes.
Delpy and Hawke have never been more persuasive than they are in "Before Midnight," nor has this surprisingly resonant series. I'm Bob Mondello.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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