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Barbara Sukowa stars as Hannah Arendt, a German-Jewish philosopher and New School professor who reported on the 1961 trail of former Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. She later wrote five controversial articles about the trial which were published in 1963 in The New Yorker. What made her articles controversial? She argued that Eichmann was neither an anti-Semite nor a "monster"; he was merely following orders, never killed any Jews himself and was unable to tell the difference between right from wrong while working for Hitler. She also stirred a lot of controversy by theorizing that the Israeli government was partly responsible for the Holocaust because of their complacency. Not surprisingly, she received many angry letters in the mail including death threats, but she also received some praise concurrently. Heinrich Blücher (Axel Milberg), her second husband, remained with her throughout as did her personal secretary Lotte Köhler (Julia Jentsch). Her real friend and strong supporter was novelist Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer).
Writer/director Margarethe von Trotta and co-writer Pamela Katz do an admirable job of balancing suspense and drama without veering into melodrama. Hanna Arendt remains an emotionally compelling and provocative character study of a brave, intelligent woman. Von Trotta and Katz smoothly interweave actual footage of the Eichmann trials. The flashbacks of Arendt's liaisons with professor Martin Heidegger (Klaus Pohl), her first husband, are interweaved awkwardly, though, and therefore slightly diminish the film's dramatic momentum, although not enough to lead to boredom.
Hanna Arendt's heart and soul lies in the bravura performance by Barbara Sukowa. She anchors the film from start to finish and even captivates your heart when she simply lays on the couch while in deep thought. The performances from the supporting actors are a bit uneven ranging from wooden performances from Arendt's students at the New School and colleagues at The New Yorker to superb performances from Jentsch, Milberg and McTeer, who provides some comic relief and panache. That comic relief adds just the right amount of levity to keep the film from being too dry. Arendt's lecture about the banality of evil manages to be the film's most memorable scene and one that leaves you rewarded both intellectually and emotionally more than any scenes in recent film history. If Sukowa were to be nominated for an Academy Award, which she certainly deserves to, the Academy should select that scene as an example of how Sukowa sinks her teeth into Arendt with utter conviction. You may not agree with Arendt's theories nor do you have to in order to enjoy the film, but you will find yourself inspired to think critically which is a rare feat in our dumbed-down, shallow culture.
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and his wife Celine (Julie Delpy) live in Paris their twin girls, Ella (Jennifer Prior) and Nina (Charlotte Prior). Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), Jesse's teenage son from a previous marriage, returns to Chicago after spending his summer vacationing with them in Greece. Jesse and his family have been staying at the beautiful seaside villa of their friend Patrick (Walter Lassally), who, like Jessie, is also a writer. A lot of tension and pent-up emotions rise to the surface as Jessie and Celine talk openly about their regrets and other thoughts and feelings threaten to break their marriage apart.
After Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Before Midnight rounds out the romantic drama trilogy on a deeply satisfying high note. Co-screenwriters Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have a very good ear for natural dialogue that never once feels stilted or veers into contrivance. Jesse and Celine are a couple who you truly care about because they come to life on the screen with all of their flaws and insecurities that make them all the more human. Neither of them is even close to perfect. There's no denying that they are two intelligent and complex individuals who talk a lot and actually say a lot, too. You can sense that deep down inside, in spite of their differences and arguments that you observe onscreen, they genuinely love on another; they may not always show it explicitly. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's convincingly moving and naturalistic performances further enrich the film.
Like the prior films in the trilogy, Before Midnight has plenty of subtlety, nuance, charm and pure, unadulterated poignancy that makes it a life-affirming, emotionally captivating and rewarding experience. Director Richard Linklater together with his co-writers respect the audiences' intelligence by treating them like sophisticated, mature adults---a demographic that has been sorely neglected by Hollywood nowadays. Keep in mind that not all of the film is heavy, serious or thought-provoking. If it were too serious, it would've been too dry and boring. If it were too heavy in terms of the content of Celine and Jesse's profound arguments, it would've been exhausting. Before Midnight has just the right balance between drama, romance and levity in the form of comic relief and the picturesque, relaxing Greece setting. Moreover, the screenwriters brilliantly avoid using flashbacks which would have been distracting and awkward; instead, they merely have Jesse and Celine referring to the past and vividly describing their memories. The ending, that won't be spoiled here, works on many levels because it's well-earned and leaves you with a lot to think about and feel. It's a real triumph and a refreshing way to escape the loud, mind-numbing summer blockbusters.
The Company You Keep
Jim Grant (Redford), a civil rights lawyer, had once been a member of the activist group Weather Underground, but has since gone incognito after a botched bank heist ended with the killing of a security guard over thirty years ago. Other members of the group also assumed a false name. When FBI agents arrest one of the members, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), Grant realizes that he might be the next one captured by FBI agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard), so he drops his 11-year-old daughter (Jacqueline Evancho) off at his brother's place and goes on the run from the authorities. He reunites with the other members of Weather Underground, namely, Jed Lewis (Richard Jenkins), Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie) and Donal Fitzgerald (Nick Nolte). Meanwhile, an ambitious young journalist, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), investigates the connection between Grant and Solarz after he learns Grant's real name and his participation in the Weather Underground. The deeper that Shepard digs throughout his investigation, the more he realizes that there's more to the story than meets the eye, especially given what police honcho Harry Osborne (Brendan Gleeson) tells him, which won't be spoiled here.
The Company You Keep can best be described as a slow-burn political thriller with a few minor missteps that make it fall short of being new classic. Those shortcomings include underdeveloped, somewhat distracting subplots such as one involving a romance between Shepard and Osborne's daughter (Brit Marling), and the clunky, convoluted ways that certain twists become revealed later in the second act. Despite those shortcomings, The Company You Keep, is much more intelligent than your average modern-day thriller because it favors character development over action sequences. It's safe to say that the film is a true ensemble in the sense that every actor and actress gets his or her chance to shine, and plays an integral role in the story. Kudos to casting directors Avy Kaufman and Maureen Webb for selecting such a superb, talented cast. Seeing those actors work together is among the film’s many pleasures.
Director Robert Redford and screenwriter Lem Dobbs have woven a quietly suspenseful thriller that's complex without being too complicated or hard-to-follow. Not only are the performances solid all across the board, just as expected, but the characters hold your interest because they're not cartoonish or simple. Grant, Shepard and even police chief Osborne each has plenty of moral ambiguity, and there's room for interpretation. You may like them one minute, but dislike them the next which makes them all the more compelling as characters. While the screenplay doesn't really have crackerjack dialogue, depth or memorable lines, the actors' performances compensate for the screenplay's weaknesses or holes and, more often than not, make you forget them completely. The top-notch cinematography and musical score also help to further enrich the film and to raise it well above mediocrity.