October 21, 2010
Review - " Hereafter " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay
Mohr, Thierry Neuvic, George McLaren, Frankie McLaren
That Clint Eastwood has become a great filmmaker is something few
would contest, yet the nature of his greatness is as surprising as it's
little understood. You can talk about the pristine technique - the new
film, "Hereafter," provides lots of examples. But what's much more
fascinating and enriching is Eastwood's Olympian vision, the
sympathetic and all-encompassing understanding of the pain and
grandeur of life on earth.
This vision is consistent in Eastwood's late work, no matter who is
doing the screenwriting, and it boggles the mind to realize that this is
coming from a guy who, until he was about 60, was best known as an
action hero. Make no mistake, Eastwood's directorial output, from
"Mystic River" on, constitutes the 21st century's first cinematic marvel,
and "Hereafter" is among the best things he has ever done.
A tsunami pummels an Indonesian beach town at the beginning of
“Hereafter,” drowning untold thousands, snapping palm trees and
tossing cars down narrow roads like toys. The enormous, special
effects-laden sequence opens the film on a jaw-dropping note, and
it’s totally unlike anything you’ve ever seen Clint Eastwood direct
before. Yet the clarity with which he depicts the chaos, and the
visceral reactions he evokes from the street-level perspective he
takes, are very much hallmarks of his filmmaking style. We’re being
sucked under and swirled about, too, but there’s nothing gratuitous or
needlessly dizzying: It just feels real.
“Hereafter” itself is a departure for Eastwood thematically as it tackles questions of what happens after we die and whether
we can communicate with those who’ve gone before us. But again, there’s an elegance and an efficiency in the storytelling
that are so very characteristic of his 40 some-odd years behind the camera.
It’s also an unusual offering from writer Peter Morgan, whose previous screenplays include the crisp, incisive political profiles
“Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen” and “The Last King of Scotland.” Morgan says the sudden, violent death of a close friend
inspired him, and his writing here is more somber, contemplative. All three of the film’s main characters are toiling within their
individual states of loneliness in three different countries, even though they’re seeking or making connections to another
When their paths ultimately cross – as you know
they surely must – it doesn’t have quite the
emotional payoff you might have been looking for,
but the journey each of them takes is never short
Strongest among the story lines in “Hereafter” is
the one involving Matt Damon as a reluctant San
Francisco psychic; his performance recalls
Eastwood’s own screen presence, as Damon
shares the ability to convey deep emotion in a
spare, natural way. He stars as George Lonegan,
who made a living for a while communicating with
the dead, until the psychological toll of learning
so much personal information about strangers
became too great.
Now he lives in a small, tidy apartment and works at a factory, even though his older brother (Jay Mohr) keeps trying to
convince him that it’s his duty – and of great potential financial benefit – to share his gift. But trying to establish even regular
relationships remains difficult, as he finds when he takes a cooking class and enjoys a brief flirtation with a fellow student
(Bryce Dallas Howard).
In Paris, TV news anchor Marie Lelay (Cecile de France) is still recovering from having survived the tsunami at the film’s
start. She had been vacationing with her boyfriend (Thierry Neuvic), who’s also her show’s producer, when the massive
waves hit the coast. She’d also been at the top of her game professionally. Now, she questions everything she’s made of,
having experienced unexplained visions that shook her up. The Belgian actress is as subtle here as she is powerful.
opposed to what they do. Even if you have no spiritual inclinations about any sort of afterlife, “Hereafter” refrains from being
too preachy or heavy-handed; it’s never alienating.
We are fully invested in the three individual stories. And if the connections among them seem fragile at best, that only
serves to highlight Eastwood's premise: that the Hereafter and the Here And Now are not so very far apart, but instead
two worlds teeming with compassionate beings, separated only by that filament-thin barrier that separates life from death …
and, more significantly, the living from the dead.
Eastwood's unwillingness to neglect any actor ends up giving "Hereafter" a humane essence: Everybody is important, not
just Damon as the tortured psychic or De France as a breezy extrovert deepened by trauma. Thus, the little boy's mother
(Lyndsey Marshal), is more than a desperate alcoholic, and Bryce Dallas Howard gets to create a rich character as Melanie,
the psychic's partner in a San Francisco cooking class - a young woman masking pain under a superficial facade that has
become her personality.
Eastwood’s score for the film, which he injects
sparingly, is probably the prettiest he’s ever
written, with its mixture of jazz and melancholy.
It’s another example of how he’s taken his
signature style and changed it up just enough to
keep us guessing.
Life after death is at once the most personal and
universal of human mysteries, and Clint Eastwood
tackles the subject with tender ferocity in this
heartfelt supernatural drama. "Hereafter" is an
attempt to convey the bigness of life though a
story involving disparate characters in different
parts of the world.
The ironic result of all this meticulous care is that
we don't see Eastwood's hand but rather have the
illusion that this gallery of humanity is telling the
story for him. He just tells the story, and we get it.
Meanwhile, in London, young Marcus loses his
identical twin brother, Jason, in an accident.
(Both boys are played by George and Frankie
McLaren at different times, an intriguing
choice.) The twins had grown up poor with an
absent, alcoholic mother, leaving only each
other to rely on; add to that the fact that Jason,
the older brother by 12 minutes, was the
smarter and stronger one. Marcus now
struggles to navigate the world on his own but
finds himself drawn to psychics in hopes of
receiving guidance from his brother one last
Eastwood weaves between these disparate yet
intrinsically connected story lines smoothly and
without hurry. The pacing may feel a bit too
languid, but it allows us to get to know these
characters by observing who they are as