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  1. Arts & Entertainment

Review: Hawke, Delpy all talked out in 'Before Midnight'

Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) are together at last, but they still have ground to cover.

Before Midnight (R) (108 min.) — Eighteen years have passed since Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, an indie romance that became an art house hit through the courage of its own pretensions. It was a chance encounter in Vienna between two young, loquacious strangers on a train, an American tourist named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and a French student named Celine (Julie Delpy), made for each other with only one night to realize it. Personally, I wasn't impressed.

Then Jesse and Celine returned in 2004's Before Sunset, a little older, a lot wiser and purposed during a Paris reunion and rekindling of their spark. The movie's conversational stream had more structure after Hawke and Delpy took charge of the script; you could tell they love these characters, protecting and nurturing their unconventional movie ways. Before Sunset felt like the natural completion of a previously unfulfilled idea, and it worked for me.

Jesse and Celine return in Before Midnight, living together with twin daughters, not exactly happily and perhaps not ever after. During a holiday in Greece they do what they do best: express their inner feelings in rambling conversations suitable for eavesdropping. But now the conversations are less optimistic about life and love. As its title suggests, Before Midnight is a darker movie than the others, less seductively romantic.

We're watching the possible disintegration of a relationship built upon forthright conversation and being torn down by the same. Jesse left a wife to be with Celine and is considering a move back to the U.S. to be nearer to his son. Celine sees that as fatal to her career as a Euro-political activist. Regrets and recriminations sprout like weeds from there, digressing into themes of mortality and fidelity.

The problem with Before Midnight is that the conversational flow seems slightly forced this time around. Emotions rise as suddenly as subjects change, which occasionally makes Celine come across as mildly unhinged. The movie at times resembles a screenwriting workshop, with Delpy and Hawke trying to shoehorn every shade of this shifting relationship into a single scene. It doesn't feel genuine; certainly these two would know each other better by now. B-

Steve Persall, Times movie critic