Criterion Collection Review: ‘BOYHOOD’ earns its place in the cinematic vault

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Preston Barta // Editor

BOYHOOD | 163 min | R
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, Marco Perella, Zoe Graham and Brad Hawkins

Film:

Criterion Collection’s 2K digital transfer of BOYHOOD is essential viewing for anyone believing that cinema is great art. How foreign and beautiful it is to see a motion picture about a Texas child’s experience from 5 to 18 years old. Rather than making BOYHOOD a yearlong production and casting new actors to play the characters as they grow up, writer-director Richard Linklater shot the film annually across 12 years using the same actors. The technological achievement of maintaining continuity while filming over such an extended period is a noteworthy tribute to Linklater’s ability. It is a feat of directorial patience and innovation rarely seen in the movie industry.

Linklater, who grew up in Texas, has a truly impressive filmography. He has directed quiet, stunning films such as DAZED AND CONFUSED, which chronicled the ‘70s teenage youth; the BEFORE trilogy, which showed how the passage of time affects and changes people in the most profound ways; and BERNIE, a comedy-drama that traces a small-town Texas mortician as he goes to great lengths to produce the fantasy that the town’s grande dame is still alive after he kills her.

Just when you thought Linklater’s work could not get more surprising, he outdoes himself again with BOYHOOD. This may very well be his masterwork, showing the maturation of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a sensitive and inventive boy who is equally brought up by his single mother (Patricia Arquette) and loving but irresponsible part-time father (Ethan Hawke).

While the film’s narrative is light, Linklater holds our attention with his relevant views of growing up that are effortlessly weaved together into a long story in which time moves on naturally. The boy, Mason, grows older without breaks — moving from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. The adults develop, mature and occasionally regress right along with him.

Because this film is more about character than narrative, so much rides on the performances. Thankfully, everybody goes above and beyond his or her given roles, especially Coltrane. He starts as a passive, observing kid, but as he matures – along with his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) – his role in the story grows accordingly. We witness him fall in love and go through a circle of friends as he moves from place to place. However, Mason isn’t the only one who undergoes changes.

Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater in BOYHOOD. Courtesy of IFC Films.

Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater in BOYHOOD. Courtesy of IFC Films.

Mason’s parents both go through their own patterns of growth and development in their spirits. His mother, Olivia, played spectacularly by Arquette, remarries two times and goes back to school. Mason’s father, Mason Sr., portrayed by Hawke in one of his best performances yet, drops his juvenile tendencies and steps up to the plate as a father.

While it may not be intentional, BOYHOOD gives audiences a look inside of today’s post-9/11 youth. The tragedy of that morning forever changed how we talk about politics and world affairs. The fact that this film takes place in Texas also doesn’t go unnoticed. Students who grew up Texas might remember a time in grade school when they had to say the “Pledge of Allegiance” to both the United States and Texas flag. Linklater wanted BOYHOOD to be a film that everyone could identify with, but it’s hard to ignore some of its Texas ties, such as the scenes involving guns and political ideology.

Though it clocks in at 163 minutes, BOYHOOD never feels tedious. It’s one of those rare features that you could easily imagine watching for hours on end. Despite the lack of a clear three-act structure or clean resolution and denouement by the time the events come together, the audience won’t feel cheated by the beautiful journey.

BOYHOOD is a matchless and complex vision that will go down in motion picture history as a film of gesture and movement, insecurity and happiness, awe and love. It’s a movie phenomenon that serves as the indisputable front-runner for film of the decade.

Extras: An audio commentary featuring Linklater and nine members of the cast and crew, a documentary chronicling the film’s production, conversations with the talent, a video essay by critic Michael Koresky about time in Linklater’s films, and a collection of portraits and essay by novelist Jonathan Lethem.

  • New 2K digital transfer, supervised by director Richard Linklater, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master
  • Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New audio commentary featuring Linklater and nine members of the cast and crew (Easily the best feature on the disc– which goes into their personal connections with the material, how they developed what we see on screen, small ties to DAZED AND CONFUSED, how they maintained continuity and adapted to change).
  • New documentary chronicling the film’s production, featuring footage shot over the course of its twelve years (An extended, more in-depth version of what is available on the regular disc).
  • New discussion featuring Linklater and actors Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane, moderated by producer John Pierson (A look back at the film a year after its release, people’s reactions to watching it and their own experience watching it for the first time).
  • New conversation between Coltrane and actor Ethan Hawke (The second best feature on the disc, because Hawke is one of the most articulate and well spoken talents in the business. He needs his own commentary.) 
  • New video essay by critic Michael Koresky about time in Linklater’s films, narrated by Coltrane
  • Collection of portraits of cast and crew by photographer Matt Lankes, narrated with personal thoughts from Linklater, Arquette, Hawke, Coltrane and producer Cathleen Sutherland
  • PLUS: An essay by novelist Jonathan Lethem

More details on Criterion Collection’s release can be found on Criterion.com.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.

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