When you think of the world of filmmakers, where does Richard Linklater rank? He is not in the pop culture echelon of Tarantino and Spielberg, nor is he an indie darling such as John Cassavetes or Steven Soderbergh. Rather, Linklater is a filmmaker all his own. The director’s relegated himself to making films in his home state of Texas and has, for the most part, stayed out of the confines of the Hollywood system.
That does not mean that he’s a forgettable filmmaker. In fact, he was one of the unsung and underrated filmmakers of the early 90s indie movement. When you ask a friend which Linklater film is their favourite, you may get a doe-eyed response of confusion. But that’s where the charm of his movies lies. Linklater has quietly made some of the most interesting and experimental films of the last 20 years, remaining unnoticed by the masses.
Starting off your film career with three great flicks is the equivalent of hitting a grand slam in your first major league at-bat. It can be an exciting event, but also bring about a heap of expectations.
Linklater’s first film, Slacker, is a meditation on the daily life of Austin, Texas residents, but it’s also a complex study of Generation X. The plotless film had been done before but the way that Slacker nonchalantly meanders from story to story and opines about the meaning of life separates it from other of its ilk. (4½ stars out of 5)
DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993)
Hot off the heels of that indie darling, Linklater decided to take another make his sophomore effort Dazed and Confused. While his first feature had no real direction in terms of plot, Dazed and Confused had a bit more of a narrative, focusing on the last day of high school for Texas residents.
Packed with a cast of future all-stars that included Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, and Milla Jovovich, the film is more renowned for its greatest hits of the era soundtrack than the actual film.
Of Course, Dazed and Confused also first exposed one of Linklater’s biggest faults: his reluctance to make a film without an end goal. Making a film that waxes about the state of the times and the feeling of one moment in time is all well and good, but some of those moments can be taxing after awhile. (4 stars out of 5)
BEFORE SUNRISE (1995)
The fact that Linklater’s films often have no story is not always a fault, though, as showcased by his third film, Before Sunrise. If you’re a sucker for well-written conversations in film, this vehicle starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as star-crossed lovers definitely hits the mark.
While contemporaries at the time like Tarantino and Kevin Smith were more worried about throwing in Star Wars or Kung Fu references, Before Sunrise tried to bring a natural and truthful tone to the writing. A plotless film can be Linklater’s downfall, but a film with a central idea of one relationship can win out over all else. (5 stars out of 5)