Saturday, October 23, 2010
Who would have thought that Sergio Leone's Man With No Name would become a critic's darling with a handful of Oscars but such is the direction Clint Eastwood's career has taken. His latest directorial effort is "Hereafter" (opened October 22 throughout San Diego).
In case you can't tell from the title, "Hereafter" deals with death. It focuses on three people, each touched by death in a different way. Marie (Cecile De France) has a near death experience when caught in the chaos of a tsunami. Little Marcus (George McLaren and Frankie McLaren) loses his more gregarious twin brother in a tragic accident and finds it difficult to cope on his own. And George (Matt Damon) is a blue-collar American who has the ability to connect with those who have recently died but has trouble connecting with those who are alive. Not surprisingly they will all cross paths before the end of the movie, connecting in that now over-worked manner that multi-stranded plots employ to neatly wrap up their stories.
Clint Eastwood has established himself a talented actor and director. But his range has limits. He was perfect as the laconic Man With No Name in Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns and the anti-hero cop in the "Dirty Harry" films. And he's proven himself a solid genre director with films such as "Play Misty For Me" and "The Outlaw Josey Wales." But I have to say that when it comes to films like "Million Dollar Baby," "Gran Torino," and "Mystic River" I am left scratching my head and wondering what people can find to like in those predictable and uninventive works. I feel like the kid in the "Emperor's New Clothes" looking up at the naked emperor and wondering why everyone else is admiring his clothes.
"Hereafter" strikes me as the same somber, pretentious drama as his other recent films, films that equate slowness and reserve with serious artistic investigation into the human condition. Casting Matt Damon in "hereafter" doesn't help. It throws the balance of the three stories off, making his story seem like it should be the main or more important one. It was the same problem that plagued "Babel" with Brad Pitt and Cate Blachett adding more weight to their piece of that cinematic puzzle simply because they are well-known celebrities.
In "Hereafter," Damon is the only star yet his third of the film generates the least interest, partially because we have grown used to and a little tired of his attempts at "serious" work. His range is limited and he doesn't bring much to the role. He can't find a way to make us feel the difficulties he faces because of his ability to connect with people who have died through the loved ones they leave behind. All we get is a Spider-man line about it not being a gift but a curse. With lame clichés like that and Damon straining his acting abilities, George's story just fails to connect with an audience. In addition, the resolution to his strand of the story is so painfully trite and sentimental that what little good will the film has built up is instantly smashed.
The most interesting of the three stories is the one involving Marcus, a young London boy trying to cope with his brother's death. His search for some sort of closure to a relationship that was unusually close is the only part of the film that stirred some genuine emotion. The McLaren twins playing the boys are also unfamiliar faces and they find a way to make us care about these children in a very short amount of screen time.
All of Eastwood's recent films as a director have ended up having the same feel. "Million Dollar Baby," "Changeling," and this all have a pretentious demeanor as if they are packaged precisely for the awards season. They are coolly shot, slowly paced, and somber in tone. All three of these films make me feel like I am listening to someone recount something painful that happened to them. I feel obligated to care although I also feel like the person is simply droning on without being very interesting. Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan don't find anything new to say about death or dying, or about how we cope with the loss of a loved one.
"Hereafter" (rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing disaster and accident images, and for brief strong language) feels like an eternity as it strains to pull its three tales together and resolve them in a nice neat little package. Skip this and go for one of the companion viewing suggestions below.
Companion viewing: "After Life," "Defending Your Life," "The Sweet Hereafter," "Truly, Madly, Deeply"