In one of the opening scenes of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise Ethan Hawke's character Jesse talks about an idea for a cable access program. In Jesse's show, viewers would see everything a person did in a single twenty-four hour period. That's basically the plot of Before Sunrise, but where Jesse's idea sounds exceedingly boring, this film is anything but. The story involves two young people (Hawke and Julie Delpy as Celine) whose chance meeting on a train leads to an impromptu plan to spend a day and night together in Vienna. What follows is one of the most charming love stories I've seen in some time.
As in life, characters in Before Sunrise are defined by their conversations. Jesse and Celine talk about philosophy, religion, love and life. They tell each other jokes, share experiences and discuss their hopes and fears. Along the way they encounter a number of unique individuals who offer moments of insight and act as 'delusion angels' (a term coined by a poet they meet), visiting and enriching the couple's romance.
Before Sunrise must have been a great challenge for everyone involved in the production. It's a heavily dialogue driven film featuring a script longer than a dozen Armageddons or Batman and Robins. The entire film is shot on location in Vienna giving it a 'stolen' feel. Simple camera setups lend to an enhanced feeling of realism. Long, dialogue heavy takes require exacting work from the actors and the result is outstanding.
The bulk of the credit for Before Sunrise's success has to go to Hawke and Delpy. The two deliver stunning performances, bringing to life conversations that show the depth of their character and that will ring true to anyone who's ever fallen in love. In the hands of lesser actors this film could have become tedious very quickly but Hawke and Delpy are so charming and believable that one can't help but hang on their every word.
Before Sunrise sports an exemplary anamorphic transfer. Colors are rich and full, black levels are deep without sacrificing shadow detail and I couldn't detect any compression artifacts or edge enhancement effects. The film elements used appear pristine, without a hint of grain, dust or scratches.
The soundtrack is in Dolby 2.0 surround. Dialogue on the track is crisp and understandable throughout, with no inconsistencies in volume and no noticeable distortion. The surrounds are used for very subtle ambient sounds including wind, bird songs and crowd noises. As you'd expect the LFE channel is mostly unused on this disc.
I was so taken by Before Sunrise that I hardly even noticed the fact that there are no significant extras on the disc. The film is well crafted and engaging enough that it easily stands on its own merit. I would have been interested in seeing a short featurette or some text content covering Richard Linklater's films (Slacker, Dazed and Confused etc.) but the only extras included are the theatrical trailer and a full screen version of the film on the reverse side of the disc.
Before Sunrise is a rare and wonderful film featuring excellent writing, directing, cinematography and performances. Many things could have gone wrong with the movie but Linklater seems to have covered all of his bases. If your taste runs exclusively towards action and adventure films you probably won't have much use for Before Sunrise but if you're a romantic at heart and enjoy movies that present you with fully rendered characters then you can't go wrong with this DVD.