Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Review: Hereafter (2010)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Movie Review: Hereafter (2010)

by Tony Dayoub

So after a nice little run of films by everyone's—or at least most film writers'—favorite actor-director to dump on, Clint Eastwood returns with Hereafter, his muddled attempt at a New Age suspense thriller. As someone once said, fault with Eastwood's films can usually be traced back to the script, here by Peter Morgan (The Queen), as if to exonerate the filmmaker who generally avoids substantial rewrites. And Hereafter, as naive and inept as it often is, is not without its charm. But its structure, a three-pronged storyline which slowly converges as it approaches the climax, has long past worn out any profundity it may (with emphasis) had ever possessed in cinema.

Hereafter begins with a potent scene not dissimilar from one you'd find in a disaster movie, with French TV reporter Marie Lelay (Cécile de France) drowning in a tsunami while on assignment in Thailand. She is resuscitated, but the devastation of her surroundings, and her near-death experience leave her traumatized. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, George Lonergan (Matt Damon), a lonely blue-collar worker with a sharp sense of precognition is reluctantly "reading" a client (Richard Kind) of his brother Billy's (Jay Mohr). The skeptical subject is shocked at George's accuracy, while Billy beams. But Lonergan feels his power is more curse than gift, an invasive power by which people usually define him while they ignore the lonely man who owns it. And in London, the young introspective Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) loses his identical twin, Marcus, to a violent crime after Marcus was sent to the drugstore to pick up a prescription for their strung-out mum (Lyndsey Marshal). Moved into a foster home while Mum cleans up, he goes on a quest to communicate with his deceased brother, his only friend taken too soon.

As Eastwood ages, his work has taken an elegiac tone, particularly in his last three films. If Gran Torino (2008) sees Eastwood burying his onscreen persona (so far it looks to be his last performance), and Invictus (2009) has him investigating a great man's legacy, the earthly accomplishments he leaves behind for posterity, Hereafter is his departure to the undiscovered country. And for the taciturn Eastwood, whose films have usually fared best within the realm of the concrete, this exploration brushes too close to the fanciful instead of the spiritual.

Hereafter sometimes coasts on the kind of corny charm which has always been central to the appeal of Eastwood: the contrivance of Lonergan interacting with a potential soulmate (a goofily endearing Bryce Dallas Howard) in a night class on cooking in a sensual scene in which they must feed each other bites of food while blindfolded and describe their sensations to each other; the way the camera lingers on the sunny face of De France who, minus the gap-toothed smile, often recalls Daryl Hannah circa 1982 in Blade Runner.

Unfortunately, moments do not make a film, or at least not Hereafter. Eastwood overextends with a story akin to a paranormal Crash (Paul Haggis' pretentious 2004 film, not Cronenberg's ingenious thriller). Lelay, Lonergan, and Jason all cross each other's paths in a London Book fair while each helps the other get one step closer to resolving their questions about what lies beyond. This is all handled with an earnest romanticism characteristic of the director, an understandable crutch to lean on because Eastwood is venturing into new territory (for him). Hereafter often gives the impression of a precocious child's guileless journey into an unknown world which awaits him. In this way, Eastwood is much like the film's intrepid Jason, searching for answers as he prepares for a new stage. I'd be interested in seeing whether Eastwood's next piece continues in such a progression but with the requisite maturity he's brought to his filmography over his long career.


Raquel Stecher said...

fGreat review! I was curious about this one but might wait until DVD.

Debashri said...

You know, I kind of liked the film :). Maybe because there were certain things I could connect to. Of course, the film had several flaws. I couldn't understand the character of George's brother. He seemed to be 'just there'. Also, the film slacked in pace, a lot of times... but I still did like it.

Jason Bellamy said...

Matt Damon's character reminded me a lot of Daniel Plainview. (Only kidding.)

And for the taciturn Eastwood, whose films have usually fared best within the realm of the concrete, this exploration brushes too close to the fanciful instead of the spiritual.

What was utterly odd about the film is how into the spiritual it seemed only to abandon that at the end and become a pretty straightforward and bland story about being at peace here on earth. Was that the point? That is, is there some great wisdom there -- as in, don't think about death, just enjoy life? If there is, I'm not sure it works. You write that Eastwood is "searching for answers," but I think that's what I thought was missing ... that sense that he was searching for anything at all. (Or, rather, the film seemed to be searching, only to seem to forget it was searching once all the characters bump into one another.)

I think the strength of the film is Damon, but the best conceived chapter is the one of young Marcus. The more I think about this movie, the more I wonder if Marie was even necessary -- beyond the final scene, of course.

Of late I've been at best underwhelmed by Eastwood's films and filmmaking, and I suppose the same is true here. But this time I really put the blame on the screenplay, which, in the end, doesn't seem to be about anything. (Of course, Clint should have realized that.)

Tony Dayoub said...

Don't worry, Jason, I still intend on getting back to your Zuckerberg/Plainview comparison on the other thread. This time it's work getting in the way of my answering, not life.

Concerning HEREAFTER, I may be alone in thinking Eastwood's primary focus was on mortality. Jim Emerson's recent post seems to track along similar lines as what you say here. It's worth a read. Certainly the two-part video interview between Anne Thompson and writer Peter Morgan which he posts at the end of his essay confirms much of what you're saying (Eastwood less focused on the spiritual and more on the romance which contributed to the unusual turn at the end; the strongest chapter being Marcus'), as well as what I allude to in the beginning of this piece. That is, Eastwood's refusal to work on a script after he decides to produce it.

I understand respecting the writer, but his lack of involvement or desire to demand new drafts speaks to a certain haste in his work style. In a macro sense when viewing his work, I believe this may have begun with his becoming a director so late in his life and wanting to amass a body of work rather quickly. But in this late stage of his career I think his preoccupation with mortality is evident in his work, presented in alternately ham-fisted, precocious, and naive ways.

Richard Bellamy said...

Unfortunately, moments do not make a film, or at least not Hereafter. Eastwood's overextends with a story akin to a paranormal Crash - This is well said. I agree with you on this film. There were moments I enjoyed - the flirtation between George and Melanie and the sad climax to their relationship. So you are fair with this movie. It had elements to enjoy, but the screenplay was totally undeveloped.

Unknown said...

I am gonna check this out! Great review indeed!

Tony Dayoub said...

Hokahey, one of the things screenwriter Morgan mentions in the interview I recommended Jason check out, is how much Eastwood was attracted to the film's romantic elements, which I think definitely shows.

But when it comes to corny supernatural romance, give me the underrated SOMEWHERE IN TIME over something like this any day.