Slow Death

Eastwood almost makes a movie about the afterlife

No matter how deserving it may be, there’s no way to feel good about panning a Clint Eastwood movie. The man is a force of nature: in just the last two years he directed and produced four films, composed the score for two more and starred in one. And he’s 80. His resume certainly demands respect; unfortunately his latest film, Hereafter, is a silly, sappy mess. Hereafter hops around the globe visiting its three main characters. First there’s Marie LeLay (Cécile de France), a Parisian journalist who’s just miraculously survived a tsunami, albeit with some odd after effects. Then there’s Marcus (Frankie McLaren), a young London boy with a junkie mother whose twin brother has recently died. And finally, our star Matt Damon plays George Lonegan, a disillusioned psychic turned factory worker. Obviously, what these three characters have in common is their proximity to death, their own or someone else’s. What’s strange is that Eastwood doesn’t ever explore grief, fear of death or even spirituality. He simply describes people who have a close relationship to death. For over two hours. Sounds weird, right? Death and loss are obviously compelling themes, but to make this story (by Peter Morgan, writer of Frost/Nixon and The Queen) work, they also have to remain pretty evanescent. The simplest explanation for Hereafter’s failure is that Eastwood, a product of traditional Hollywood genre cinema and one of the most classical directors working today, just isn’t suited for such a job. His old world instincts result in a film that, although clearly a very personal work, is so full of plot, details and explanations that there isn’t any room for the audience to reflect upon their own experiences and impressions of death and grief. More than the editing (there isn’t nearly enough of it) or the dialogue (needs several re-writes), this is Hereafter’s essential problem. It’s like Norman Rockwell trying to work with Picasso’s perspective. Hats off for giving it a shot, but it’s not surprising that it didn’t quite work. The overall film is disappointing, but quality tends to vary from scene to scene. And the same goes for the acting, with each of our principal cast members pulling off a genuinely compelling scene or two, only to deliver a strikingly awkward line reading a few moments later. Bryce Dallas Howard, as Melanie, a bubbly night school classmate of George’s, leaves one of the film’s few lasting impressions in this department, though she only appears briefly. The bottom line is that in 129 minutes, I found only three reasons to see this movie: one wonderfully acted kitchen scene between Damon and Howard, one hilariously awful scene outside a palatial French hospital, and Miss de France, because she’s adorable. Everything else either feels emotionally shallow or is, frankly, uninteresting. In spite of all this, let’s keep our hopes up for Eastwood’s next film. God knows its right around the corner. GRADE: D-

posted at 12:37 pm
on Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

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