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  • Hereafter

    Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard. Directed by Clint Eastwood

    Clint Eastwood has directed some of the most affecting movies I’ve ever seen, one of which is probably in my top twenty favorite films of all time. His best work is thoughtful and quiet, presenting characters in difficult situations, characters teetering on moral precipices. One thing I admire about his better work is that he leaves judgment up to the viewer and he seems especially careful not to be overly manipulative. His decisions seem to focus on telling the story, not on telling you how to feel about it, and certainly not on telling you how he feels about it.

    Hereafter is a film about death and dying, but it focuses on the living. Three stories are told in rotating fashion. There is the young man (Damon) who seems to have a talent for communicating with the dead. There is the woman, a French television news anchor, who nearly drowns in a tsunami while on vacation. And there is the young orphan boy. The film jumps from one to the next, giving us little pieces of each.

    It’s an interesting film that takes its time telling us these three stories. Unlike other films where the narrative is split, I didn’t feel as if I were being yanked from one and dropped down into the next; Eastwood does a nice job of moving us between these worlds. I appreciate the way he gives his characters time to think, because he also gives the viewer time to think about what’s happening on screen, but I think a lot of people will grow impatient with the pacing, especially when the first several minutes of the movie are rather frenetic.

    I have to say here that the movie’s full effect was almost surely lost on me; there were at least four families in the theater with me, each with three or four small children who ran up and down the aisles and almost never eased up in their stream of chatter. I understand that grownups sometimes need to see grownup films, so I try not to judge, but this was a wholly inappropriate film for young children. Who takes little children to a movie specifically about dying? You can imagine what those quiet, reflective moments in the movie were like for me considering the people with whom I saw the film.

    This is why I like going to movies by myself. I mean REALLY by myself. Alas; in all these years of movie-going, I have been the only patron in the theater one time.

    So I will probably have to see this again in better circumstances. Rather than concentrating on my own reactions to the stories here, I heard myself telling me to block out the distractions. I don’t think that’s what Eastwood had in mind, considering his sparing use of soundtrack music.

    Damon is quite good here in his second Eastwood film. I suspect many people will consider his acting less than extraordinary, but I can see why Eastwood likes him. He allows himself to be the vehicle through which the story is told and doesn’t act his way into your judgment of the character. I love guys like Samuel L. Jackson, but they practically hold up cue cards telling the audience how to feel while they do their acting. Damon trusts the story and director and lets his character inhabit the story as if he doesn’t know he’s on camera, just the way good acting should be.

    Bryce Dallas Howard is a major surprise here in a non-major role. I think she’s a beautiful woman, but I’ve been sure for ages that kissing her would be like kissing Richie Cunningham, something that doesn’t especially appeal to me. She plays a brunette here, pale and giggly and appealing, and as a potential love interest for the Damon character, she’s a nice contrast to the somber persona he seems to be trying to rise out of. And not once does she make me think of Richie Cunningham.

    In avoiding a thesis statement for this film, Eastwood takes a chance that people will feel gypped by his refusal to take a position about death and the afterlife. I can see that: I mean, why make a film that explores what happens when we die if not to say something meaningful about it? I submit that Eastwood does take a position here, and it is the one that makes the most sense: “I don’t know.”

    The one flaw I can pin on Hereafter is its somewhat disappointing story arc. While I like the way the film ends, I kept thinking there should be something more, something else, some other kind of payoff. It’s not something I felt about Million Dollar Baby or Mystic River, ‘though I know people who did feel that way about those films. I think this means I should probably see it again and hopefully see the end a different way or at least come up with a reason for my sense of deflation.

    Until I do, I give it a 7/10 (IMDb rating) or 75/100 (Criticker rating).
    But I'm disturbed! I'm depressed! I'm inadequate! I GOT IT ALL! (George Costanza)

  • #2
    Re: Hereafter

    Your review appears so affected that I can't find much value in it.

    Clint is carny - if he didn't provide a blow-off, then he's slippin'. I'm looking forward to this show.
    May I always be found beneath your contempt.