This is third of my favorite Richard Linklater movies, two others being Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. I just loved this movie for the amazing content and his handling of characters. As usual, he has very few characters but heavily loaded with conversations. This movie came sometime between Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and he cast his favourite hero and fellow texan Ethan Hawke.
The movie takes place in real time, but unlike the use of steadicam in Before Sun…, there is heavy usage of a handycam. The movie has a very amateurish approach with the handycam moving from one face to another, trying to capture immediate reactions to the lines spoken. But the content of the movie is very mature and the story idea is delicate/sensitive.
The entire action takes place in a motel room in Michigan. Vincent is in Lansing to attend the Lansing Film Festival. He is not a movie buff, he comes to Lansing to give moral support to his old buddy John Salter whose movie has made it to the fest. But he has an ulterior motive of coming all the way to Lansing. He brings back fresh memories of an incident from the past which revolves around John and Vince’s ex-gf Amy, while all 3 were in high school.
This incident is the crux of the movie, and takes place on the farewell day of the high school. The movie is about different perceptions of the same incident by different characters. A high voltage psyscho-drama is unleashed in the small room where the two friends chat about good old school days. While Amy becomes the focal point of the chat, they build up the tension and paint the character of the 3 individuals.
Vince, out of nowhere, blurts out that Amy had confessed to him something sinister. Vince outrageously suggests that John had forced Amy to have sex with him in high school, which is tantamount to rape. And John goes on the defensive that it was consensual sex. Now, while both the men are on a verbal duel, only one person can say if the allegation made by Vince is true or not; and that person is Amy herself. While John tries to defend his actions of the forced love-making, Vince takes him by surprise when he pulls out a tape-recorder and shows that he has recorded every word spoken by John and that he has invited Amy too; she would be joining them any moment.
Amy makes a late entry, after almost two-thirds of the movie is over. But this is a fantastic ploy, because she brings in a new perspective to the incident. She is the woman in question, and the way she handles herself is fantastic. The tension is palpable as she too does not know the real purpose of this get-together. John and Amy take the movie forward with some brilliantly written dialogues and a tight screenplay. Although Vince has nothing to gain from this, he tries his best to add fuel to fire. He comes up with lots of wise-crack statements which are partly relieving and partly wild remarks. The awkwardness in the room, the way Amy and John interact has been handled with lot of sensitivity.
When all 3 characters are deep into conversation, the manner in which the camera pans from one character to the other is fantastic, capturing Amy’s calmness, John’s initial composure and then losing his cool and Vince’s wickedness of having created the entire ruckus and the way he is enjoying the scene at the cost of his friends and ex-gf’s plight. The movie keeps you totally gripped and you just can’t bat your eyelids.
While I was still wondering how this movie would end, this clever movie got the fine ending it deserved; it started with vile and guile and ended the same way. The story by Stephen Belber is very well written and was actually a stage-play which was then translated on-screen by Richard Linklater with his innovative direction. And apart from the handycam, which assumed the part of the fourth character, the casting was perfect.
Ethan Hawke as Vince was conniving and I feel he is quite an under-rated actor. His performances in Before Sun… , Training Day, Gattaca and Great Expectations is awesome. He is an unassuming guy who just sweeps you off with his performance. Robert Sean Leonard as John Salter was very convincing in the way he played the guy with a dilemma of rape versus consensual sex and the guilt of having been a party to such an act. He was terrific in the movie, last I had liked him was in Dead Poets Society. And finally, Uma Thurman as Amy was marvellous. The way she conducted herself and being part of just one-third of the movie, she handled her sequences with deftness. After this movie, her next best movies were the Kill Bill series. Another noteworthy point about the performances is that, nowhere in the movie did Ethan and Uma show the warmness and the affinity of the married couple they were. They went about the job very professionally, stuck to the character and brought out the rough edges and rawness that the character demanded.
And of course, Richard Linklater, the guy who directed this movie is just brilliant. He makes movies with minimal characters and minimal fuss. He is so focussed that he does not give you a moment to turn your head around. He keeps you glued with those enchanting conversations and real-time cinema experience. This movie is a must watch as it reminds us the importance of story-telling and the art of writing conversations. All we need is a good story/script/screenplay, good actors and of course a brilliant director to make a good movie.
This post was first published on PFC