Sunday, October 24, 2010
Eastwood's 'Hereafter' is heartfelt, sensitive storytelling
By Steve Crum
Clint Eastwood has chosen to tell the compelling Hereafter as three stories set in a like number of international locations with Matt Damon’s character serving as the interconnecting lightning rod. As its title suggests, Hereafter deals with death; however, its focus is on departed souls’ influence on and communication with the living. Although various precepts of love are plot elements, the film is not so much a love story as it is a story of loving in humane ways. Hereafter is a heartfelt, sensitive film, qualities inherent in most of Eastwood’s directed work, particularly over the past decade.
Matt Damon is George Lonegan, a laborer working in San Francisco with his brother Billy (Jay Mohr). Lonegan used to have a much more lucrative job, at least potentially so, when he discovered his ability to connect with the afterlife. His brother relentlessly encourages him to take advantage of his gift, but George has found it to be more of a curse. The emotional impact of his readings (he merely touches the person to connect with his or her dearly departed) has worn him down to the extent he avoids socializing with virtually everybody. Yet potential clients seek him out to speak to a departed loved one.
There is a particularly telling sequence wherein George takes a chance in exposing his celebrity as a psychic, and enrolls in a cooking class, which he feels will be a safe and fun way way to socialize while avoiding death issues. What he does not count on is being partnered with cute redhead Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard--Ron Howard’s daughter). Their blindfolded, taste-testing scenes are charming and funny. In fact, they border on the erotic with close-ups of lips and tongues, reminiscent of the eating scene in Tom Jones. (This is a new Eastwood turn.) As their food partnership segues into a serious relationship outside of class, the plot takes serious, sad turns.
Concurrently, French journalist Marie Leley (Cecile de France) is vacationing with her boyfriend when a Tsunami hits their island resort. (Actually, this spectacular sequence opens the movie.) The tidal wave hits while she is shopping downtown, with disastrous results. Without giving away far too much, I will say her experience will later inspire her to write a memoir about the incident. Eastwood’s recreation of the Tsunami is realistic and terrifying, certainly an achievement for his digital/special effects gurus.
Eastwood and screenscribe Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon) add the story of London schoolboys Marcus and Jason, well acted by twin brothers Frankie and George McLaren, to the plot triad. Not long into its initial sequence, wherein the boys’ wretched life with their alcoholic mother is depicted, a turn of events puts Marcus on his own. Without getting too specific, this eventually triggers a search to personally meet with George, whose reputation as a legitimate psychic is well known. Scenes of Marcus as he stubbornly pursues George are alternately humorous and disturbing. Eastwood handles the material superbly.
It is no coincidence that George Lonegan a super fan of Charles Dickens, and that Hereafter plays out much like a Dickens novel. Chance meetings, coincidence, characters (in this case George, Marie and Marcus) crossing paths later in the story, a search for the truth, and destiny are elements familiar to Dickens’ readers.
Eastwood has used subtitles before, as in the Japanese sequences of Letters From Iwo Jima, and he uses them here, sparingly, in the French portions. Factoring in the on location filming in Paris and London, low key dialogue-speak, the multiple plot structure, and long takes, Hereafter has a foreign film look and feel.
It should not be surprising that Clint Eastwood has created a thoughtful work with exemplary acting (Damon, de France and McLaren), and a compelling story that wrenches and tugs at tears and heart. He continues to reinforce his reputation as one of the most important filmmakers of our time.
GRADE: On an A to F Scale: A