Matt Damon plays a depresso psychic in "Hereafter," the director's lumbering, "Crash"-like supernatural fable
Clint Eastwood has now directed a kazillion movies — OK, I count 31 feature films, the bulk of them made since 1990 — and while some are good, some are bad and a whole bunch are in between, let’s say this: They’re all watchable. He knows where to put the camera and appreciates elegant, restrained cinematography. Actors like to work with him because he doesn’t waste their time or try to get inside their heads, and he prefers understated, even dry performances, whether he’s making a hard-boiled crime flick or a sentimental weeper.
I’m totally fine with cutting Eastwood a break based on his undeniable status as a national treasure and an iconic figure in Hollywood history. As certain friends are happy to remind me, I’ve definitely overpraised some of his mediocre outings. But as Clint has grown older and backed away from acting in his own films (he’s appeared in only two of his last eight directorial projects), the movies themselves have lost personality and vigor. “Million Dollar Baby” and “Gran Torino” are pictures that have many fans and many haters, but both possess an intensity and specificity of vision you just don’t see in handsome, dull, big-budget vehicles like “Changeling” or “Invictus.”
I admire late-career Eastwood in theory — he appears to be modeling himself on the versatile Hollywood craftsmen of his youth, like Howard Hawks or William Wyler — a lot more than I enjoy it in practice. That formula also applies to his new “Hereafter,” a movie that opens with a sensational bang and then proceeds to pursue the Big Questions about life and death in lovely, lugubrious and increasingly off-putting fashion, until all its drama has been frittered away in a dreamy, drifty haze.
Working from a screenplay by Peter Morgan (who also wrote “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon”), Eastwood spins out three leisurely “Crash”-style narratives, until they inevitably and rather unconvincingly collide. I have two tips for Morgan, who until now has specialized in crisp, witty scripts pulled from recent history. 1) Go back to that stuff, and keep the maudlin supernatural musings in the drawer. 2) When your story begins with a tsunami (literally), you can’t stage its climax at a book fair.
I’m totally serious about the tsunami-to-book fair arc, and that might seem comical if anything about “Hereafter” were even remotely funny. French TV newscaster Marie (the lovely Belgian actress Cécile de France) nearly drowns in the devastating South Asian tsunami of 2004 — it’s a stunning CGI sequence, on a scale unlike anything Eastwood has done before — and undergoes one of those out-of-body experiences that resets her entire attitude about life and death. Halfway around the world in San Francisco, a depressive psychic named George (the stocky, stoical Matt Damon) tries to flee from his ability to talk to the dead, which has become more a curse than a blessing. In a third, even gloomier strand, a cherubic London kid named Marcus (played alternately by George and Frankie McLaren) tries to cope with the death of his identical twin brother, not to mention the fact that his mom is a hopeless junkie.
“Hereafter” is something like an M. Night Shyamalan movie in extreme slow motion — all three of these people have brushed up against the Grim Reaper without actually dying, and the experience has left them cut off from ordinary life. Marie spaces out on the air and loses her job; when she gets a contract to write a veil-ripping biography of François Mitterrand, she delivers a book about life-after-death research instead. (Yes, that’s an utterly ludicrous turn of events, but let’s move on.) George strikes up a romance with a shy Midwestern chick (Bryce Dallas Howard) in his Italian cooking class, but when he performs a “reading” for her it doesn’t go all that well. Marcus barely speaks to his new foster parents, and spends all his pocket money on one psychic charlatan after another.
Much of “Hereafter” proceeds pretty genially, at least in the sense that the shots look great (the cinematographer is Tom Stern, Eastwood’s longtime collaborator) and the cast avoids oversized ham-bone emotions. And despite what you may read elsewhere I detect no particular religious drive behind this movie. George’s murky, milky visions of the afterlife are studiously nonsectarian, even agnostic. I have no problem, by the way, with a work of fiction that posits the existence of life after death or the Christian God or Satan or Vishnu or whatever you want; it’s a movie, and whether or not I find its worldview plausible is pretty much irrelevant.
But the dramatist has an obligation to make that worldview seem compelling, and to my taste the characters in “Hereafter” melt away into a doleful gray mist, equal parts boredom and sadness, long before fate brings them together amid the high drama of a London book fair. (We get a scene that features Derek Jacobi reading an excerpt from Dickens, for no reason at all beyond cozy fireside Englishness.) Clearly Eastwood is trying to strike a melancholy, unhurried tone, and some viewers are evidently swept away. Speaking personally, I only hope that if death is not the end, what lies beyond is more fun than “Hereafter.”
“Hereafter” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, with wide national release to begin Oct. 22.
More Related Stories
- Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black get into catfight on Twitter
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
- Brad Pitt keeps breaking his silence on how boring marriage to Jennifer Aniston was
- Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" to use porn star body doubles
- New Beyoncé single leaked
- The sweet, sure to be short-lived "The Goodwin Games"
- Damon Lindelof admits barely-clothed scene in "Star Trek" was "gratuitous"
- Justin Timberlake: I'm a mediocre folk singer!
- Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74
- Beware of book blurbs
- Did a Salon excerpt ruin Penn Jillette's chance to win "Celebrity Apprentice"?
- Zach Galifianakis to take formerly homeless woman to "Hangover 3" premiere
- Seth MacFarlane will not host Oscars again
- "SNL's" uncomfortable Garner/Affleck moment
- "Celebrity Apprentice" finale ratings hit a new low
- Worst National Anthem fails
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11