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Until the Night is an intensely moody character study about two people who have grown disillusioned with their lives and relationships. Kathleen Robertson is superb as Elizabeth, a woman who struggles to remain optimistic about her failing marriage to washed-up actor Daniel (Michael T. Weiss). "We have a realistic kind of love," she reassures a friend, and herself, "no fireworks." Meanwhile, Robert (Norman Reedus), a failed writer and sometimes photographer, descends into alcoholism in the waning days of his relationship with former actress Mina (Missy Crider).
Over 40 minutes of the film pass before Elizabeth and Robert meet, giving Hatanaka plenty of time to build an atmosphere that really makes us feel as if these characters are falling into private oblivions. When they finally meet, we feel the promise of salvation, even though both we and them know the affair is ultimately doomed. Above all, Elizabeth needs and wants stability, and Robert is anything but that. Robert, on the other hand, is addicted to wanting what he doesn't have. Once he has Elizabeth, he'll go back to leaving countless messages on model Karina's (Sarah Lassez) answering machine.
At times, Until the Night feels repetitive. There are too many similar scenes of Elizabeth fighting with her husband or Robert annoying his girlfriend by videotaping her. But even when these scenes fail to advance the characters' development, they never spoil the gloriously oppressive mood. Yasu Tanida should be commended for his claustrophobic cinematography. The images take on a life transcending their budgetary limitations, making you forget you're watching an indie film, or even watching a film at all.
Until the Night is an organic experience. Nothing seems plotted, written or purposefully intertwined; it all feels real. Reedus and Robertson's virtuoso performances create true people. They aren't good or evil; they're just flawed. This is a brilliant first film for Hatanaka. May there be many more.
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