Sunday, October 24, 2010

REVIEW: Hereafter

I had planned to review Clint Eastwood's latest film, Hereafter, by debating other critics, who have been uncommonly soft on an Eastwood film. But then I realized - maybe that's why it worked so well for me.

Dealing as it does with questions about life after death, Hereafter isn't going to be everyone's cup of Clint. Some will be put off by the languid pacing. Others may react negatively to the intersecting stories, which rely a good deal on fate and contrivance. Still others will chafe at the mere subject matter.

I'm going to let them. The issue of an afterlife stirs about as many different reactions as there are people. Some reject it, others embrace it wholeheartedly. All I can do in that spectrum is say why it worked for me.

The screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) weaves three stories. The first is of a tough, probing journalist (Cecile de France) whose worldview is forever altered by her near death in a tsunami. The second is of a young boy (Frankie McLaren) who loses a family member in a terrible accident. The third is of a psychic, George Lonergan (Matt Damon), who views his otherworldly abilities as more a burden than a blessing. 

As is the case with most Eastwood films, the director's sure hand and his skill with actors are strengths. I particularly admired Matt Damon's balanced portrayal. He's maybe a little quirky and certainly sometimes morose, but Damon never overplays any of his hands. By combining all these qualities in unexpected ways, he creates someone who seems like a down to earth, relateable person, even with his extraordinary abilities. 

One of the best subplots of the film is a romance that begins to blossom between Damon and Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), a woman who becomes his partner in an Italian cooking class. With a winsome performance by Howard, their relationship is touching, and I wanted to see more of it. That their storyline is somewhat abbreviated seemed like a flaw at first, but by the end of the film, it became a thoughtful counterbalance to Damon's character. I can't reveal more details without getting into spoilers. but it's the most affecting romance I've seen onscreen since Once

The heart of the film's success surprised me, and here's why. I am a practicing Catholic. I am a lector at my church. I believe in an afterlife. However, Hereafter only glancingly brings up God and the church - and I think that was a smart move by Morgan. Hereafter tells us that life after death isn't dependent on religion - it's dependent on the belief that something happens after we die - that we don't simply burn out like light bulbs at the end. 

The film obviously supports the idea - but also allows room for debate about it. That's what makes Hereafter so worth seeing - and so worth discussing.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! I was interested in seeing this piece of work beforehand, but now I am even more excited ... for completely different reasons. Thanks, Eric! I always enjoy your reviews. - Tanya W.