Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is the ultimate coming-of-age narrative in any media. Being the last word on the subject, all past and future attempts to depict the maturation from the childhood to young adulthood will seem fundamentally incomplete.
Because “Boyhood” is nothing if not a complete film. You probably know the story of this buzziest of movies by now: Linklater began shooting the film in the summer of 2002, when his lead actor, Ellar Coltrane, was 7. They returned every following summer, for 12 years, shooting this 164-minute epic two weeks at a time. As a result, we watch everything get a little older and, yes, wiser: the actors onscreen, the technology they use, the conversations in which they engage. Linklater has called “Boyhood” a period piece, but it hardly meets the definition of one; he never recreates an older period but shoots forever in the now, filling his movie with the magic of the immediate moment, the majesty of the everyday.
The pioneering documentarian Michael Apted attempted a similar filmic experiment with his career-long “Up” series, revisiting the same group of kids every seven years and charting their transformations into adolescence and middle age. Francois Truffaut famously followed his onscreen surrogate, Jean-Pierre Leaud’s Antoine Doinel, over a 20-year period. And Linklater himself, ever the patient auteur, has taken a groundbreaking long view with his “Before” trilogy, charting the development of a chatty pair of lovers over a real-time, 18-year trajectory.
Both of these ongoing projects look glacially paced compared to “Boyhood,” which moves at an addictively propulsive pace. Each year in Mason’s (Coltrane) life spans about 15 cinematic minutes, then cuts to the next year without warning and waits for us to catch up to its characters’ sometimes slight, sometimes profound differences in age, height, demeanor and bodily wear and tear.
Despite its professional editing and production values, its spirit is akin to a compilation of home movies, where a person’s evolution and eventual self-actualization is observed through a graduated timeline of significant annual moments, each intended to stand in for the other 50 weeks a year we miss. It’s the movie equivalent of one of those Darwinian flipbooks, where the monocellular organism becomes a reptile, then a primate, then a Neanderthal, then a millenial tapping away on an iPad.
You’ll be astonished at the consistency of character, as the director and most of the actors, dividing their time between other projects over a dozen years, become themselves so fully, as if no time passed at all. Tellingly, this is a movie, like the “Before” trilogy, that is largely about the ephemerality of time itself, its endless forward motion: We’re just beginning to grasp what Mason’s life is like in any given year, and whoosh—we’re already in the next one. How true is this sensation? It’s the perfect movie for anyone who’s ever had the thought, “I can’t believe another year has gone by,” or “they grow up so fast, don’t they?”
This would normally be the point in the review that I would fill with a plot description, but when dealing with a plotless character study like this, the task seems provincial and beside the point. There are so many captivating surprises in this movie—so many instances of relatable laughter and equally relatable, heart-in-your-throat tragedy—that to mention any of them would be to spoil the wonder. I’ll speak instead of the wonderful acting. Linklater’s daughter Lorelei plays Mason’s older sister, Samantha, and her transformation is just as remarkable as Coltrane’s; you’ll find yourself wishing the director and his cast had shot enough material for “Girlhood,” shooting a second epic from Samantha’s point of view.
Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke play the children’s divorced parents, Olivia and Mason Sr. As the years move inexorably onward and Olivia’s number of ill-fated husbands increases, her hair style and mannerisms become ever more matronly, her mistakes ever more glaring, her intentions ever purer (at one point, I scribbled the note “she’s doing the best she can”; minutes later, she says the same line in a defensive argument with Samanatha). Mason Sr., and Hawke himself, grows up slower, maintaining his youthful rakishness until his body acquiesces to age. By the end, he’s become the movie’s elder statesman, its longtime slacker who, no less than his son, has finally accepted manhood.
As for Coltrane, his work here is astonishing, the sort of the emotionally vulnerable, naked performance only achieved by actors who have shed all notions of self-consciousness and can make the camera disappear. Whenever he cuts through the bullshit of the movie’s hypocritical authority figures—whether it’s his parents, his employers, his monstrous stepfathers—he doesn’t even have to say anything: You can read it in his eyes.
Even when some of these figures are right, we side with Mason, because we’re invested in him, not his guardians, and they all come off as hindrances to his life path. We want to see him finally liberated, free of his nest and ready to find himself. We’ve all been there, whether or not we’ve had overachieving older siblings or divorced parents or violent stepfathers, or were bullied in school or harangued by teachers. The movie feels more authentic than most documentaries, each scene a brief, inspired burst of lightning in a bottle.
And like many of the best films in movie history, “Boyhood” is also about film itself—about celluloid as a preserver of the past and a harbinger of the future. This being 2014, I thought everything in movies had been done, every narrative innovation explored. “Boyhood” proves me wrong. I can already say with utmost confidence that this will be remembered as the best film of the year, if not one of the greatest in the history of the medium.
“Boyhood” opens today, July 25, at Cinemark Palace 20 in Boca Raton, AMC Aventura 24, Regal South Beach 18 and Coral Gables Art Cinema. It expands to more theaters in Palm Beach and Broward counties Aug. 1.
There he is, Philip Seymour Hoffman, brought back to life like a cinematic Lazarus for the span of a too-short two hours. This isn’t to say that “A Most Wanted Man” is too short a film; on the contrary, this rote, even inert adaptation of the John Le Carre novel is plenty lengthy enough. But I’d sit in the auditorium all day to see Hoffman reading the proverbial phone book if it meant prolonging his photographic presence just a little bit longer.
And this, his final starring role, is another vivid showcase for his talent. He plays Gunther Bachmann, an anti-terrorism operative with a checkered past, who has been “demoted” to a post-9-11 job tracking potential jihadis in Hamburg, Germany. His gut protrudes, his eyes are inquisitive but exhausted, his hair is disheveled. He exhibits a rumpled intelligence a la Peter Falk. He’s at home in the seediest bars in Germany, calling himself a “cave dweller,” and he suffers bad, outsize habits for alcohol and cigarettes. He hides reservoirs of tenderness beneath a gruff exterior.
He is utterly this character, but he’s also Hoffman in his last days, life mirroring art and vice versa. He plays a spook, and the actor himself is now a ghost. When he’s onscreen, and even when he isn’t, it’s hard to think about anything else. We just want to savor every last moment, psychoanalyze every line of dialogue for double meanings that suggest the demons underneath the drama. Even if Philip Seymour Hoffman was still with us, he’d be the only reason to see this movie; but as a postmortem reminder, “A Most Wanted Man” is unintentionally heartbreaking and essential for admirers of his craft.
At the resist of getting all handkerchief-y, there is a film here to review, and it’s an otherwise minor one, a passable, plotty example of second-tier Le Carre. Gunther and his team are following the travels of Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a mysterious half-Russian, half-Chechan potential jihadi who has illegally immigrated to Hamburg. Karpov has come into contact with Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), a human-rights attorney helping him seek asylum. She learns that he is set to inherit a fortune from his late terrorist father, which is kept under the auspices of a German banker (Willem Dafoe). Gunther and his colleagues, by forcing the assistance of Annabel, are hoping to lure Karpov, a small fry in organized terrorism, to a larger, money-laundering fish named Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi).
Screenwriter Andrew Bovell writes with the same expository, quippy punch of an airport thriller; I didn’t know it was based on a Le Carre book going in, but its source material will surprise no one. Dutch director Anton Corbijn, a renowned music-video auteur, brings a handsome banality to these familiar machinations of foreign intrigue, overusing his shaky-cam and flooding the overcast ambiance with gravitas even when it’s uncalled for: The story just isn’t as interesting as the filmmakers, and Herbert Gronemeyer’s heightened score, tells us it is. Most of this is a conventional spy game elevated to grandiose levels of global importance.
“A Most Wanted Man” is far from an essential Hoffman experience; it’s not “Capote” or “Charlie Wilson’s War” or “Almost Famous” (I could go on and on). But as a final send-off to a legend who burned out far too quickly, it’s well worth your time.
“A Most Wanted Man” opens today, July 25, at Cinemark Palace 20 and Regal Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton, Movies of Delray, Cinemark Boynton Beach 14, Muvico Parisian 20 in West Palm Beach, the Classic Gateway Theater in Fort Lauderdale, Cinemark Paradise 24 in Davie, and more.