Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hereafter – Clint Eastwood (2010)

Wen I was heading into the advance screening of “Hereafter,” I overheard several people who had already screened it say the film was depressing.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I have to say anyone who found it gloomy probably just didn’t get it.

Clint Eastwood isn’t a filmmaker who shies away from death and “Hereafter” opens with a sequence that kicks you right in the face.

What’s disquieting about the scene isn’t its realism.

It’s how we follow Maria, a French journalist, played by “High Tension’s” Cecile de France, from the moment she realizes she’s in d
anger right up to her death.

As audiences, we’re used to seeing the carnage from a survivor’s point of view.

We watch other people go down, sometimes in horrific ways, with casual indifference.

As someone who unabashedly loves screen violence, I was surprised at how disturbed I was seeing this woman die.

We’re not used to seeing death from the victim’s point of view and this scene starts “Hereafter” on just the right note for Eastwood to ask his viewers to think very seriously about death.

When we experience death through the eyes of this woman, we know this isn’t going to be a thriller.

This film is going to be a meditation on the very nature of mortality and Eastwood takes the theme on just as seriously as he did with “Million Dollar Baby” and “Unforgiven.”

In the hands of a less capable storyteller, “Hereafter” might have been a contrived film. When I heard about the plot, it didn’t sound like something that would normally draw me in.

But after “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Unforgiven,” Clint Eastwood is a filmmaker who has earned my trust. I am more than willing to put myself in his hands and just let him tell his story.

“Hereafter” centers around three people, all dealing with their brushes with death or grief in different ways.

First, there’s the story of Marie, the French journalist who died in the Tsunami and then came back to life, after seeing what lies after death.

She’s burning to tell the world what she’s seen and explore, as a writer, the scientific community’s studies on the subject of life after death.

Of course, this doesn’t do wonders for her career.

Then, there’s Marcus, a little boy in London. He’s the child of a junkie who’s lost his twin brother in an accident and is desperate to reconnect with him.

He runs into all sorts of charlatans in a sadly funny sequence. We want to laugh at how ridiculous these people are, but then we see the disappointment on this kid’s face when they turn out to be frauds.

There’s one scene where Marcus goes into a group reading where a woman is on stage doing the John Edwards tricks. She goes across the crowd saying things like, “I’m feeling that someone here has lost someone,” and “I’m sensing a name that starts with ‘J.’”

This is a perfect juxtaposition to George, a rare psychic played by Matt Damon who actually is the real deal. We see this at the beginning of the film when he gives a reading to one of his brother’s clients as a favor.

George doesn’t mess around with any of this, “I’m sensing some vague who-the-hell-can-guess-what.” He knows exactly who he’s talking to and he hears them clearly.

Unfortunately, this ability is a burden. When George meets Melanie, a lovely young woman at a cooking class, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, there is instant chemistry between them.

Then, she finds out he has this gift and she asks him to do a reading. He all but begs her to let him off the hook, assuring her that once that happens, the chances their relationship will go anywhere will go down significantly.

Of course, she doesn’t listen and he gives in.

And we’re not surprised to see that she doesn’t show up the next week for cooking class.

Clint Eastwood takes his time telling each story and treats each character with the care they deserve. When the paths of these three finally intersect, it doesn’t feel forced or artificial.

“Hereafter” has been marketed as a thriller, but it’s not.

It is an extremely gentle, if sometimes unsettling drama and it stands u
p with “Million Dollar Baby” and “Unforgiven” as Eastwood once again asks his audience to look death right in the face.

Because it’s being marketed as a genre picture, “Hereafter” will probably join “Gran Torino” as one of his recent films totally shut out as far as Oscar nods go and that’s a shame.

Just go see it.

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