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They say that a career should never be judged until 21 years have past. Although it's hard to believe, director Richard Linklater has achieved this milestone and now filmmakers Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood decide to shine some light and appreciation on one of the most inventive and daring of contemporary American filmmakers.
Sadly, Linklater himself doesn't actually feature in this documentary but we do get contributions from a whole host of reputable actors that have known or worked with him.
The enthusiasm from collegues such as Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke and Keanu Reeves on Linklater's intelligence and approach to filmmaking is infectious and their anecdotes and insights into his work are a joy. However, it's only really Hawke (his most common collaborator) who seems to fully know what makes him tick. If you're a fan of Linklater and have a sound knowledge of his work then there's nothing here that you won't already know and the film, unfortunately, doesn't really shed any light on the man personally.
Dunaway and Wood's primary focus seems to be a brief commentary on all the manner of genres that Linklater has tackled: Sports flick, Bad News Bears; Period piece, Me and Orson Welles; Western, The Newton Boys and Sci-Fi, A Scanner Darkly, all get a look in while it also highlights his lack of pretension and his ability to dig deeper into more meaningful and intelligent projects. The authenticity of Dazed and Confused and the walk-and-talk theatrics of the Before trilogy get the most focus (the latter being humorously referred to by actor/director Mark Duplass as the lowest grossing trilogy of all time). This focus may, like myself, leave some viewers disappointed that the marvellous work of Waking Life gets very little discussion yet it's probably his most thought provoking film and shadows the fact that Linklater was always a philosopher to begin with and just happened to choose celluloid as the medium to express himself.
The tidbit of information I found most surprising, however, was the dialogue throughout his films. Although much of it seems like improvisation due to the encouragement for his actors to be free and loose it's actually verbatim which seems all the more impressively delivered when you look at how his films are structured and, as expected, it explores his penchant for similar themes of alienated characters, the social constructs of America and how he effortlessly evolves through his work while working diversely between Independent and bigger productions. It also highlights the effort that Linklater has made in support of independent filmmaking and how he was influential in helping create the Austin Film Society whereby old film prints could be saved and showed, as well as raising money from filmmakers to help make more films
Overall, it does little but scratch the surface and a bit more in-depth analysis to his films would have been welcome but to paraphrase Billy Bob Thornton on the outtakes at the end; "Rick Linklater doesn't need anyone to make a documentary about him. He's fine". However, a film that runs a mere 78mins is hardly demanding and if your a fan of Linklater then it's a pleasant appreciation.
Could this documentary be better thought out, yeah, but for what it is I enjoyed it. This does look into the interesting character of one of the leading directors in the independence filmmaking world, including a special quote the director had for each film he has made. I just wish they spent a little more time on his films, particularly his best known features, and I also wish they dug deeper into his creative mind as well.
If you're a fan of his films, it's a must-see. Even if you aren't, it's an interesting insight into his creative process as well as to the man himself. Also I had forgotten how many great actors got their start on Dazed and Confused!
Unless you are a huge fan of Linklater, don't even think about checking out this movie.
Made me want to go back and watch my favorites again, and see the ones I missed! Not being an "industry" person, the doc also gave me fun insight on the making of a great movie
Fantastic documentary, great access to understanding Linklaters career and the path he took to achieve success.
Review by Jesse Burleson of VIEWS ON FILM
Do you remember the scene in Jerry Maguire where the Tom Cruise character is at his bachelor party and a TV set is playing a video montage of all his female pals talking about him? I do and 2014's 21 Years: Richard Linklater (my latest review) sort of brought me back to that candid, cinematic moment in 1996. "21 Years" being a Breaking Glass Pictures release, also reminded me of an unintentional AFI tribute complete with plenty of veritable, actor-to-director brown nosing. Ah, how great it feels to be loved.
So OK, this is a goofy, overly playful documentary about a famed director who's been making movies ever since 1991. His name is Richard Linklater. He's an innovator, a man of varied ideals, and it seems like he's never really helmed the same flick twice (unless you count 2006's A Scanner Darkly and 2001's Waking Life as both being rotoscoped which is a unique animation technique). With his critically acclaimed Boyhood currently starting to gain Oscar momentum, it seems kind of fitting that 78 minutes would be devoted to his life as an oil rig worker turned indie legend. Sadly, 21 Years: Richard Linklater was not the right way to honor this guy nor does it do Rick any justice (at least that's what all his actor friends are calling him these days).
Now by and large, Linklater's Altmanesque Dazed and Confused and Tape made me a huge fan. They are both talked about via this documentary but in a totally one-sided way. A lot is mentioned about "Dazed" where almost no insight is given into Tape, a wholly original exercise told frighteningly in real time. And therein lies the problem with "21 Years". Not only does this thing not get any interviews from the great Linklater himself, it jumps around without talking about his films chronologically. Just recently, I watched something about the late Steve McQueen titled Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool. That vehicle (ha ha, get it) went over all of the actor's work in order and in detail. On the flip side, this loose, pasted-together doc leaves a lot of Richard's stuff out. It keeps reverting back to his auspicious debut which would be Slacker. Sure, that thing was revolutionary and probably inspired a lot of dudes to go out and get 16 mm cameras. But the guy has done about 25 films in his career and I think "21 Years" forgets to fully mention half of them (Fast Food Nation, Tape, Suburbia, the previously mentioned Waking Life, and $5.15/Hr. don't get so much as a blurb). It also doesn't help that a lot of "21's" scenes are interspersed with mounds of unnecessary animation explaining the origin of how his endeavors came together. It just seems so out of place and probably not what Linklater would have wanted, only what the directors of "21 Years" wanted (I kept asking myself if Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood actually knew Linklater personally. It's as if they were too scared to get advisement from him and instead just talked to everyone around him). Truth be told, I think that all the people who worked on 21 Years: Richard Linklater probably enjoyed making it a lot more than the audience who had to sit through it.
Oh and don't get me started on some of the interviews from actors that have worked with Richard in the past. They come off as embarrassing with the normally refreshing Matthew McConaughey projecting himself as a complete tool (enough with the "alright, alright, alright" already) and Keanu Reeves making virtually no sense while calling Linklater a f***ing a**hole (gee, what a nice guy). Only Ethan Hawke, his friend, collaborator, and true confident adds a deeper meaning to the proceedings. However, his honest presence when talking about his relationship with Rick only feels like it belongs in another mosaic about someone's life, a better one at that.
All in all, 21 Years: Richard Linklater plays like a documentary in which no one involved ever thought it would actually be greenlighted or for lack of a better word, be distributed to various film festivals. It's obvious that Linklater had virtually no involvement in the making of "21 Years". We hear from everyone but the man himself. And although I'm sure he feels grateful for all his cohorts praising him, if he had any creative control, there is no way he'd approved 90-95% of what was on screen.
I as a critic, wanted more background on the guy in general, his childhood for instance and the films or oddities at which he decided to pursue his passion (or again, maybe an interview involving the actual man). Oh well, at least some of "21 Years" is mildly entertaining (this thing however, has outtakes during the closing credits. Please no more of this! This is a plea to everyone who makes movies). In the end, it's ultimately a drag man. Result: 2 Stars and that's being generous.
Of note: As much as 21 Years: Richard Linklater irked me, I was enthralled by Kevin Smith's admission in it that Slacker was the film that inspired him to be a director. I also forgot about how many dolly shots Slacker was comprised of (this is explained in "21 Years" by fans who've made it cult-worthy). Man, I just have to see that micro budget drama again stat!
Awesome documentary. Hearing the actors' and directors' stories of the director is a fun and nostalgic aspect, the animated segments are great, and the incorporations of the film clips work wonders.