Before Sunset, Richard Linklater's 9-years-later revisitation of the chatty post-slacker characters in Before Sunrise, is better than it has any reason to be, and better than the first film. It's short (80 minutes) but seems even shorter--why does it move so swiftly? The dialogue is banal, the people only passably interesting, the steadicam views of Paris postcard-pretty, the story bare-bones, but some potent cinema magic is working here. Ethan Hawke hasn't changed--he's still the callow searcher with the bad existentialist schtick. Julie Delpy, however, is more neurotic, more of a controller, and funnier than she was in the first film. Maybe she (the actress) has "lived more" since '94; maybe it's just hard to see her as a nice person after the king-hell bitch she played in Kieslowski's White, but she seems to be driving the story and riveting the viewer's attention here. I wish I could mention a single concrete reason why she or the movie are so compelling, though.

Speaking of revisiting older films, count me among the non-fans of Donnie Darko, the Director's Cut. Until today I felt certifiably cool for having seen the original release during its one-week theatrical run in fall 2001, but I agree with the reviewer who said 20 minutes of added footage makes the film "bloated." What was a mysterious, off-center, multiply-interpretable film is now over-explained and I would say normalized, with the addition of superimposed pages from Grandma Death's book about time travel (formerly DVD extra material), scenes showing a warmer relationship between Donnie and his family (and his therapist), completely unnecessary classroom pontification about Watership Down led by beatnik English teacher Drew Barrymore, and rather ordinary videoscreen effects added to the trippy sequences. I just ordered the original DVD in a mild panic that this cut will replace it.

The line "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion" remains intact in both versions, happily.

- tom moody 7-28-2004 3:08 am

I saw Donnie Darko again Oct '03 on DVD (first viewing was on the big screen.) For me it really held up, maybe even better the second time. I love that slow-motion school montage. I don't think it was the director's cut though.
- steve 7-29-2004 9:06 am

It probably wasn't. That montage is wonderful. Kind of a prelude to Gus Van Sant's Elephant, maybe? It made me really like that Tears for Fears song, which means I can expect to hear it in a deodorant commercial soon. In the director's cut he didn't mess with that scene or the music, but apparently switched whatever 80s classic is playing when Donny first rides his bike down the mountain into his neighborhood. Actually, now that I think of it, his blackouts on the mountain road are another Van Sant connection.
- tom moody 7-31-2004 9:58 am

from Chris Knipp's review:

Before Sunset is a superb sequel. It’s touching but surprisingly unsentimental. And it’s as graceful a piece of filmmaking as you could ever see, with the gracefulness of art that conceals artifice. Richard Linklater is one of the most interesting younger American directors. His work is authentic and personal, but has real range, from the slacker movies through the romantic encounters of Delpy and Hawke and the tight theatrical drama Tape to the inspired philosophical musings and fresh animation of Waking Life. Hawke has been involved in four of Linklater’s movies; he and Linklater are soulmates and brothers. Delpy is an essential collaborator in the Sunset/Sunrise sequence because she too is a writer and created her own dialogue.

- tom moody 8-04-2004 4:04 am

Dennis Lim's Voice review of the Darko director's cut

Donnie Darko's passage from Sundance ruin to midnight-movie religion is an underdog feat worthy of its hero. Trust distributors Newmarket, newly flush with Passion profits, to grant this rather more agnostic allegory of sacrifice and salvation another chance at box office redemption. With an extra 20 minutes spliced in, Richard Kelly's knockout debut—an aptly schizoid time capsule of apocalyptic teen anxieties, scored to a loving mix tape of period pop—remains the most potent Reagan-child rebel yell to date. The differences are mostly subtle, and for the considerable subset of the fan base that came of age in the '80s, which Darko you prefer may come down to questions as seemingly trivial (yet deeply philosophical) as . . . Echo and the Bunnymen or INXS? (I don't care that it's more 1988—replacing "The Killing Moon" with "Never Tear Us Apart" for the opening dawn bike ride feels like a betrayal.)

Obsessives will be familiar with the "new" material (almost all available on the original DVD), which elaborates on the time-travel metaphysics and tightens the emotional screws. Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) shares one additional tender exchange with each family member—best of all a poignant moment of father-son congruity. Also restored: a subplot in which Drew Barrymore's English teacher, forced to remove Graham Greene's The Destructors from her curriculum, reassigns the kids Watership Down, and a late bombshell from Katharine Ross's therapist, who further emphasizes the theological nature of Donnie's space-time manipulations. Kelly's more overt attempts at explication prove counterproductive. Donnie's reference manual, The Philosophy of Time Travel, was only glancingly invoked in the first version. (Its contents have long been available on the film's website.) Now entire pages, with repeated references to Hawking-via-Zemeckis concepts like the Tangent Universe and the Manipulated Living, are superimposed on the screen. Needlessly annotating and foreshadowing, the geeky bursts of text (along with periodic, tricked-out close-ups of Donnie's eye) diminish the narrative's mystery and disrupt its somnambulist tempo.

A remarkably precise evocation of its decade, Donnie Darko has also proved to be a cultural barometer of uncanny timing and sensitivity. Set in the final month of the 1988 presidential campaign (the film's first line: "I'm voting for Dukakis"), it premiered at Sundance on the eve of the Bush II inauguration, opened in the catastrophic fall of 2001, and is being revived for another brutal election season that we can only hope goes some way to rectifying the Tangent Universe of the last four years.
Jim Hoberman's 2001 review of the original cut:
Meet the Depressed
by J. Hoberman
October 24 - 30, 2001

Donnie Darko, the first feature by 26-year-old writer-director Richard Kelly, is a wondrous, moodily self-involved piece of work that employs X-Files magic realism to galvanize what might have been a routine tale of suburban teen angst—OK, borderline schizophrenia. Part comic book, part case study, this is certainly the most original and venturesome American indie I've seen this year.

Kelly begins fiddling with normality from the opening scene, the evening of the 1988 presidential debate, wherein a sitcom family—tense mom, supercilious dad, two smirking teens, and an annoying little sister—gathers in the dining room to partake of a delivered pizza. "I'm voting for Dukakis," the oldest Darko sister announces, mainly to cause her father to choke on his slice. A discussion regarding the candidates' respective economic policies quickly degenerates into vulgar abortion jokes and the revelation that middle child Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is off his medication and receiving messages from outer space.

Clearly we are dealing with an advanced life form. The mysterious forces of the universe demonstrate their power most vividly in the snoozy aftermath of the Bush-Dukakis dustup, when Donnie is summoned from his bedroom out into the night. Waking the next morning somewhere in the middle of the local golf course, he returns home to discover that a plane engine has inexplicably fallen from the sky and crashed through his bedroom ceiling. Convinced that the world will end in 28 days, Donnie continues to experience alien visitations in the form of a monstrous toothy rabbit named Frank.

Signs of a parallel universe abound. An unhappy fat girl roams through Donnie's high school, an institution fronted by a bronze statue of a squatting mastiff. His gym class impassively watches a videotape on "fear management." A beatnik English teacher assigns her students to read "The Destructors," Graham Greene's jaundiced story of teenage nihilism. Smiling and mumbling to himself, socially maladroit Donnie manages to hook up with a new girl (Jena Malone) who has the Grimm name of Gretchen and a lurid family story to match. "You're weird," she tells him. "That was a compliment." Meanwhile the town suffers a few curious plagues: the school is flooded, a home burns down. Donnie's shrink ups his meds and embarks on a regimen of hypnosis. (The first session comes to an abrupt end when the spellbound patient begins fondling his crotch.)

With Drew Barrymore as Donnie's English teacher, Patrick Swayze as a demonic motivational speaker, and Katharine Ross as Donnie's therapist, the movie's casting is both showy and inspired. Holmes Osborne is a sympathetically smooth and spineless Darko paterfamilias; Mary McDonnell, his wife, full of false cheer, carries hilarious intimations of early 1991 and the Gulf War, through her status as Dances With Wolves's righteous mate, Stands With a Fist. But the movie rests on the hunched shoulders of its spaced-out protagonist. Jake Gyllenhaal refuses to make direct contact with the camera. At once goofy and poignant, frozen and shambolic, he convincingly portrays Donnie's eccentric genius—riffing on the sex life of the Smurfs, arguing with his science teacher on the nature of time travel. Gyllenhaal's sidelong performance allows him to take spectacular delusion in stride—he tries to kill Frank when he appears in his malleable bathroom mirror and hallucinates ectoplasm extravagantly emanating from his father's chest.

Although the big influence on Kelly would seem to be Paul Thomas Anderson's wildly ambitious and similarly apocalyptic Magnolia, Donnie Darko is steeped in '80s pop culture. The movie's metaphysics are largely derived from Back to the Future, there's a particularly strange and funny allusion to E.T., and in one of the most haunting scenes, Donnie and Gretchen watch Evil Dead in an empty theater. The sub-Toni Basil routine performed by Donnie's kid sister and her dance group, Sparkle Motion, has been as lovingly choreographed as the soundtrack has been assembled.

Shown last January at Sundance, Donnie Darko received a mixed response. Amy Taubin praised it in the Voice as her favorite film of the festival. Others appeared to resent its ostentation (big stars and special effects) or complained about its hubristic shifts in register. No less than Donnie, the movie has its awkward moments. Kelly makes too much of Beth Grant's uptight New Age gym teacher, and there are more than enough sinister cloud formations racing across the sky. But the writer-director has a surefooted sense of his own narrative, skillfully guiding the movie through its climactic Walpurgisnacht—or, should we say, carnival of souls.

The events of September 11 have rendered most movies inconsequential; the heartbreaking Donnie Darko, by contrast, feels weirdly consoling. Period piece though it is, Kelly's high-school gothic seems perfectly attuned to the present moment. This would be a splendid debut under any circumstances; released for Halloween 2001, it has uncanny gravitas.

- tom moody 8-04-2004 10:45 am

Salon ran an article advancing the labored sci fi explanation of Donnie Darko reinforced by the director's cut. These letters in response to the article suggest much richer levels of meaning. More on this later. I've seen the original cut again and it's much superior.

- tom moody 8-07-2004 10:00 am