Movie Review: “21 Years: Richard Linklater” Is A Compelling Documentary On His Life


Review by James McDonald

This compelling documentary takes you on a behind the scenes tour into filmmaker Richard Linklater’s style, skills, and motivation via his friends, actors, and other directors.

Richard Linklater is a Texas independent filmmaker, born and raised in Houston. He directed such films as “Slacker”, “Dazed and Confused” and the recent critically acclaimed “Boyhood.” Unlike many successful filmmakers today who started out making movies when they were kids, Mr. Linklater didn’t get the passion for making movies until later in life. He worked on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico for a period of time and upon his return, his love for film transpired through repeated visits to a repertory theater in Houston. Shortly after, he made his very first feature, a movie that is very difficult to track down these days unless you own the Criterion Collection edition of “Slacker”. It was titled “It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books” but it was the aforementioned “Slacker” that finally put his name on the map.

Shot totally in Texas, it was a simple tale about the day in the life of Austin and the various social misfits, vagabonds and oddballs that inhabit it. This documentary never actually includes Mr. Linklater, rather, it concentrates on the actors who have worked with him over the years, actors like Ethan Hawke, Keanu Reeves, Julie Delpy, Jack Black and Billy Bob Thornton, who talk in great detail, about how he works and operates as a filmmaker. Mr. Linklater’s latest movie, “Boyhood”, was shot over a period of 12 years and includes Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette and tells the story of a young boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and chronicles his life from age 5 to 18 and we see him literally grow up in front of our very eyes, utilizing the same actors from beginning to end.

Mr. Linklater also helped found the Austin Film Society in 1985 and has been quoted as saying “Raging Bull” was the movie that inspired him to become a filmmaker. “21 Years: Richard Linklater” doesn’t offer anything new in terms of re-creating the documentary genre but there are some hilarious stories and anecdotes from the actors being interviewed including one funny story from Matthew McConaughey about how when Mr. Linklater sent him the script for “Bernie”, he thought he wanted him to portray the titular character, not the supporting role he would go on to play. The movie also covers some of Mr. Linklater’s less well-known movies, films such as “SubUrbia”, “Waking Life” and “Bad News Bears” but the majority of the film centers on his crowning achievements such as the aforesaid “Boyhood”, “Dazed and Confused” and the “Before” trilogy.

Sadly, what is missing is a lack of Mr. Linklater himself. For a movie titled “21 Years: Richard Linklater”, we see some stock footage of him attending various Austin events and premieres but never once does he speak onscreen. Granted, it might have appeared pompous and egotistical to appear in a movie named after yourself but at the same time, I would have loved to have seen him interact with his frequent collaborators such as Mr. Hawke and Mr. McConaughey and interject some of his own personal anecdotes. Recommended.

In theaters and on VOD November 7th


James McDonald
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