Montreal Film Journal

THE DIRECTORS SERIES (15)


1991
SLACKER 76
[ What I love about Linklater's movies is that they're philosophical, unconventional and artsy, yet they don't feel pretentious at all. Linklater doesn't want to show off or to prove that he's smarter than you, the impression you get is that he's endlessly curious about the things of life, great or small. It's like the filmmaker and the audience are on the same level, both contributing to the experience. "Slacker" is a series of glimpses into the lives of various Austin hipsters, weirdoes, oddballs, nutjobs and yes, slackers. We follow one guy who meets with someone, then we go off with this other dude and so on. You could watch these unrelated scenes in any order, you could even turn the sound off and make up your own stories about these characters or close your eyes and associate whatever images you want to this symphony of small-talk, semi-profundities and conspiracy theories. There is no plot, no definite themes, no conclusions – the person watching the film brings as much to it as those in it. Trippy. ]


1993
DAZED AND CONFUSED 70
[ review ]

1995
BEFORE SUNRISE 87
[ Back before I died inside (long story), I was a total infatuation-sucker. I basically fell in love with every girl who paid the slightest attention to me. And when it went beyond that, watch out – best and worst feeling in the world at the same time. You know, you meet someone new and you start talking and magically there are no awkward lulls, no filler small-talk, you're just going smoothly back and forth about all these fascinating little funny things. It goes on for hours and it's like you're the only two persons left on the planet, out of thought and time... Unfortunately, too often it ends there, each going back to their own life, or it sputters away into unsatisfying friendship. Still, one cherishes these brief moments when, as Alaskan poet Jewel Kilcher once wrote, 2 Become 1. That's "Before Sunrise" right there. Ethan Hawke is one day away from leaving Europe when he meets beautiful French student Julie Delpy on a train. They strike up a conversation and they decide on a whim to both get off in Vienna and spend the night together, just walking around and talking... It doesn't really matter what you think of Hawke and Delpy or whether you agree or not with the ideas they share. What's so touching and special about the film is the way it captures that connection, that chemistry, that space between two people where, for a while, everything is possible. ]


1996
SUBURBIA 92
[ review ]

1998
THE NEWTON BOYS 28
[ Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio and Skeet Ulrich star as Texan brothers who leave horse trading and cotton picking for more lucrative bank robbing. Eventually they get caught, there's a trial, then title cards explaining what happened to them after they got out of jail. Roll credits. This almost-Western is the least distinctive film Linklater's ever made. McConaughey's a charmer and I like the old-timey music, but the narrative seriously lacks urgency and there's nothing here we haven't seen done better many times – even the hold-ups are boring. ]


2001
WAKING LIFE 92
[ review ]

2001
TAPE 69
[ This low-budget DV movie is adapted from a stage play by Stephen Belber. Ethan Hawke is a dick who deals (and does) drugs, Robert Sean Leonard is his sensitive artsy filmmaker friend and Uma Thurman is a girl who got between them back in high school. The whole film takes place in a motel room, as the three are reunited after ten years apart and confront unresolved issues that blur the line between who's a "dick" and who's "sensitive". Belber's screenplay is complex and full of ambiguities, the performances are strong and Linklater keeps things relatively dynamic. It still feels more like a filmed play than a movie-movie, but this huis clos works surprisingly well. ]


2003
THE SCHOOL OF ROCK 85
[ review ]


2004
BEFORE SUNSET 90
[ review ]


2005
BAD NEWS BEARS
[ The almost unanimously rotten reviews (notably our own Jean-François Tremblay's) scared me away - I'll catch this foul ball on DVD. Maybe. ]


2006
A SCANNER DARKLY 58
[ review ]

FAST FOOD NATION 42
[ Linklater tries his hand at a "Traffic"/"Babel"-style multithreaded socio-political ensemble piece, with more or less success. He's not the brilliant visualist that is Soderbergh, nor is he able to milk every moment for every last drop of its dramatic potential as would Gonzáles Iñárritu, for better or worse. Linklater's strength lies more in everyday human interaction and conversation as narrative drive. It doesn't help that this is a film that attempts to make storylines out of a non-fiction book and that fast food, bad as it may be for you, is hardly as potent a subject matter as, say, drugs, which often do destroy lives. To fill things out, they have to digress into subplots about illegal Mexican workers, chicks fucking the foreman and doing drugs, a teenager hanging out with her uncle, etc. This is all watchable enough, co-leads Greg Kinnear, Ashley Johnson and Catalina Sandino Moreno are fine and there are some noteworthy cameos by Luis Guzmán, Kris Kristofferson, Patricia Arquette's cleavage, Bruce Willis and Avril Lavigne, but it doesn't add up to anything particularly profound or affecting. ]


NEXT: ME AND ORSON WELLES (2009)