Boyhood, dir/wr. Richard Linklater, st. Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater
Richard Linklater has pulled off the most incredibly spellbinding special effect in recent times. It doesn't use models or animatronics, CGI or a phalanx of award-winning makeup artists. All it took, like Andy Dufresne and his little rock-hammer, was patience and a little determination. In an industry dominated and defined by deadlines and meticulously planned availability, it's a wonder Boyhood ever happened at all. The film charts the titular boyhood of the stoic yet perceptive Mason Jr. (Coltrane) from aged 6 to 18. This is the special effect in question: Coltrane ages in real-time with his character, the film being shot sporadically between 2002 and 2014. Arquette and Hawke play Mason's separated parents, the 12 years taking their developmental and emotional toll on the parents as much as their offspring. In fact this is a film as much about the bittersweet missed opportunities and late catches that follow us into adulthood as it is the freefall from childhood into adolescence and beyond. Arquette's well-meaning Olivia makes a pair of quite unlucky relationship decisions, and Hawke's Mason Sr. has no qualms about swooping in every now and then to dazzle his kids and make their Mum the bad guy, but between the two of them, the couple make a formidable parenting team. Olivia is kind, attentive, and struggles to balance her desire to further educate herself with bringing up her children nominally single-handedly, and Mason Sr., automobile safety aside, engages with his kids in a way that's stimulating and exuberantly, endearingly boyish. But the focus is on Mason Jr. played with the kind of quiet charisma and focus often found in young actors still in the process of finding themselves. Linklater's film toys with the duality of experiencing life and the passing of time as an active or passive observer, depending on just how far down the line you are. For example, Olivia's marriage to her college professor Bill Welbrock soon breaks down when the initial enthusiasm of bringing his own and his partner's set of children up descends into chorish apathy, and Bill turns to booze to simultaneously dull the boredom and give him the pep with which to pull boorish drill-sergeant rank over his kids and wife. These are decisions made by adults that children are made to bear. Conversely, and more realistically perhaps than say DiCaprio's Tobias Wolff in Michael Caton-Jones' This Boy's Life, Mason watches wide-eyed and mute as things unfold. Those familiar with Linklater's Before... trilogy will recognise the long improvisational takes full of the kind of astute conversational observations that effortlessly resonate so deeply. All of this makes for resolutely sublime storytelling and puts Boyhood streets ahead of any other cinematic offerings this year.