Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
This coming weekend brings Juliet, Naked, a new film with Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd and a fellow named Ethan Hawke. It seems Hawke is having a moment, again, as he gets noticed for his scrupulous work in recent films and for his development as a director (on the latter score, his new film Blaze is a couple of weeks away). The attention is deserved; I can’t think of many other actors who have developed as much from a callow early career (he was an actor at 14, to be fair) to such an essential and reliable onscreen presence. He deserves credit for some of those early movies, for sure, such as Before Sunrise and Gattaca, and his ongoing collaborations with Richard Linklater will be remembered for a long time.
Look at his last decade, though, starting with Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead in 2007. The guy’s been working nonstop, and with good people, and he just keeps getting better. As I write this, I’ve just seen Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, which finds Hawke giving a disciplined performance as a traumatized reverend; he even disguises his loose-limbed tendency to strut when he walks. That’s very fine work, to say nothing of Hawke bringing his box-office profile to a little Paul Schrader film, or his willingness to look his age, if not older.
Hawke’s recent much-discussed comments about a good superhero movie like Logan still not being at the level of a Bresson or Bergman film—which I’d heard just before I saw First Reformed—are surprisingly to the point with the new movie. Not only does it explicitly refer to those two directors, it feels like the dying gasp of a certain kind of serious film, with the churches in the movie very nicely standing in for the arthouse and the multiplex. So what Hawke said wasn’t exactly out of left field.
I looked through my files for recent reviews of Hawke’s work, which made me marvel at how busy and ambitious he’s been. I realized I didn’t review Before Midnight, the third movie with Julie Delpy and Linklater, but he’s fully committed in that as well. If I can pick one of these movies from Scarecrow’s shelves to suggest how far Hawke has traveled, it would be Born to Be Blue, in which he plays Chet Baker. The movie is no classic, but Hawke’s performance as a man who almost literally cannot function in the world outside his art shows a deep empathy for complicated humanity and a bones-deep feeling for music. Here are a few more:
Maggie’s Plan: http://www.seattleweekly.com/film/the-screwy-screwball-of-maggies-plan/
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.