"Before Midnight" is a beautiful reminder that a movie with nothing more than two people talking can have just as many explosions and fireworks as any high-tech summer blockbuster.
And it shows that big relationship moments can be even more entertaining than a car crash or planet's demise because they resonate with anyone who has ever felt the joy and the pain of being in love.
This story of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is a continuation of the series that started in 1995 with "Before Sunrise" and continued in 2004 with "Before Sunset." The couple is at the end of a vacation in Greece. Their relationship has grown to where they are the parents of two young girls and both have successful careers.
But there is trouble in paradise. Jesse laments how he's not much of a father to his son, a situation magnified by his living in Paris and his son in Chicago. Celine's feeling some doubts and concerns about how her life has not gone as planned because of motherhood.
Director Richard Linklater, who helmed the other two films in the trilogy, continues to show that minimal guidance is needed when the characters are so compelling. He lets the camera linger on the pair as they drive along the Greek countryside or wander through the streets of a small town.
Hawke and Delpy are so comfortable together that long exchanges never sound like a rehearsed speech. They're just the casual conversation of two people. The lack of edits, the flow of the discussions and the ease the stars have, even in a touch, make the movie feel like the viewer has been invited along on their journey.
What's captivating is the way their conversations are so beautifully orchestrated. Like any real discussion, their talks don't always stick to a linear line, taking sidetracks to other topics. Eventually, the words weave back to the central themes of love and commitment. Linklater who wrote the script with Delpy and Hawke masterfully builds emotional highs and lows that change so smoothly there's never a false moment.
Armed with only two fascinating people and a compelling story, "Before Midnight" dares to square off against the big action moves of the summer. It can hold its own.
Not since the brilliant work of John Cassavetes in the 1970s has a movie found so much power in the simple things people say to each other. As long as this couple remains so realistically intriguing, this infrequent catching up on their lives should continue. It's easy to believe they will still be talking about life for decades to come, and the audience will hang on every word.
"Before Midnight," rated R for language, nudity, sexual content. Stars Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke. Directed by Richard Linklater. Running time: 108 minutes. Grade: A Movie theaters and times
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org. or @RickBentley1 on Twitter.