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Mark Ruffalo on Ethan Hawke as Jesse in “Before Midnight”

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There are artists that through a constant and engaged relationship with their work refine the more subtle and difficult parts of what they do when youthful passion or charm alone can no longer carry an actor through. Such an artist is Ethan Hawke, and his performance in “Before Midnight” as Jesse Wallace is in many ways a quietly grand manifestation of a long and thorough engagement with the art of acting. This performance is a masterwork in seamless moment-to-moment acting. The kind of performance that can be missed because of its quietude and great workmanship, and because it isn’t what people wrongly and simplistically assume to be the only kind of “Great.” This is the gift of watching an artist mature in his or her craft. The fact that Ethan shares a writing credit with Julie Delpy (whose performance is equally beautiful and rare) also sheds a good deal of light on how deeply he understands this material, and how this deep understanding reflects and demonstrates how a man ages within his art form. He is opening himself up to us in a very honest and profound way. What Wallace is struggling with as a man who remains engaged with his life and art is what Ethan seems to be struggling with. What we are lucky to witness is the rare and perfect combination of a life and a character merging. It is him but it is not him. That seamlessness is the holy grail of acting. It is deeply honest and personal, incredibly brave in its humanity and simplicity and therefore very affecting. It is really something to see and I hope he and this movie get the attention they deserve when it comes to the yearly procession of award considerations.

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