By shooting this film over 12 years, writer-director Richard Linklater is able to explore family dynamics in an intensely involving way that's never been seen on-screen before. Watching the film is such an immersive experience that it's impossible not to be moved as the characters grow up before our eyes. But this isn't a gimmicky drama; it's a masterwork of writing, directing, editing and acting.
The story opens in as a single mother (Patricia Arquette) makes the difficult decision to take her young children Samantha and Mason (Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane) back to Houston to live near her mother (Libby Villari) so she can go to university. Eventually the kids' absent father (Ethan Hawke) arrives for a visit, and over the following years both parents do their best to raise the kids on alternating weekends. Step-parents (Marco Perella, Brad Hawkins and Tamara Jolaine) come and go, while the children grow into young adults. Samantha leaves for college, and Mason discovers a talent for photography, which will shape his future. And he also has a first experience with love before graduating from high school and facing the world on his own.
As the title suggests, the film centres on Mason, and the remarkable Coltrane ages from 6 to 18 over the course of the story. Watching him grow up physically is sometimes startling, but it's his emotional process that makes the film a true classic, mainly because his inner development is pretty much the only plot the movie has. And it's utterly riveting: over two hours and 45 minutes, there isn't a single dull moment. This family shifts and changes, going through rhythms of playfulness, private jokes, dark emotion and deep pain. They also offer a running commentary on 12 years of American history, discussing politics and other issues while making major decisions about their own lives.
None of the characters is the carefully sculpted figure usually shown in films: these are living, breathing people, organically growing and changing over the years. The most striking thing about the performances (and the filmmaking itself) is that they are consistent from start to finish. Everyone grows up, but they're the same people they were to begin with. Linklater has a history of long film projects (Hawke has so far aged 18 years in the Before Sunrise series), but this film is something very special. It vividly captures the fact that all of us are a work in progress, a product of our experiences over the years. Everything that happens contributes to making us who we are now and who we will become in the future. This may not seem to be a new idea, but Linklater's film makes it hit home with a life-changing kick.
Run time: 165 mins
In Theaters: Friday 15th August 2014
Box Office USA: $24.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $43M
Distributed by: IFC Films
Production compaines: Detour Filmproduction, IFC Productions
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
Fresh: 207 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 8.5 / 10
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenwriter: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane as Mason, Patricia Arquette as Olivia, Ethan Hawke as Mason Sr., Lorelei Linklater as Samantha, Tamara Jolaine as Tammy, Zoe Graham as Sheena, Sam Dillon as Nick, Nick Krause as Charlie, Shane Graham as Stanley
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